HB 195, a Florida bill that would require public schools to offer elective Bible classes, still hasn’t been defeated. In fact, it just passed through the State House’s PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee on an 11-3 vote (which tells you just how loosely they define “quality”).
The bill is sponsored by “Democrat” State Rep. Kimberly Daniels, who skipped the first day of the legislative session last week to go tape a segment for Pat Robertson‘s The 700 Club.
HB 195 would force schools to offer “objective” classes on the Old Testament, New Testament, or a combination of the two. Keep in mind that offering a class like this is already legal, but Daniels wants to force every district to offer it.
It raises an interesting question: How can you objectively teach students the myth about Jesus resurrecting? That’s what one Democrat wanted to know:
Despite that, one of her colleagues disagrees. Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, was one of the three Democrats who cast a ‘no’ vote.
“I did find nine federal court decisions, including one from Florida, ruling that public school Bible courses were unconstitutional in whole or in part,” Webb said. “In Gibson v. Lee County, which is a decision from the Middle District of Florida — my district — the court invalidated a Bible history course of the New Testament because it could not conceive how the resurrection of miracles could be taught as secular history.”
What about offering courses on another major religion to make sure we’re not just propagating the idea of Christian supremacy?
… Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, challenged the religious “objectivity” and “neutrality” of courses that are based on a single religious text.
Eskamani also asked Daniels about texts from other religions.
“My family is Iranian-American. My family identifies with Islam,” Eskamani said. “Would you consider adding the Quran to your bill to be a friendly amendment, as another holy book that can be taught ‘objectively,’ to your language?”
Daniels replied simply, “No.”
Sounds about right. Daniels, a pastor, only cares about advancing her own mythology, not anyone else’s.
The legal problem with this legislation is that forcing high schools to offer these classes in Christianity could be seen as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Even if the legislation passes, what if the new hire doesn’t teach the class objectively? Who pays the costs of that eventual lawsuit? And why do school districts want to deal with that risk?
The practical problem is that, by requiring districts to hire teachers for these classes specifically, Daniels is causing them to use money that could be used to hire teachers in other core subjects. (In theory, by forcing schools to hire a Bible teacher, administrators can’t hire (say) an additional English teacher, forcing the current ones to take on larger class sizes. It’s a decision that ought to be up to each district, but Daniels is taking away that option.)
In short, this isn’t just a constitutional concern. It’s micromanaging school districts in a way that will hamper their ability to teach all students. It’s bad policy. It’s possibly illegal policy, no matter how much she stresses the courses must be taught in a neutral fashion.
For now, the bill is in the hands of the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. If it makes it out of there, it’ll go to the Education subcommittee before going to the full State House for a vote. If and when that happens, you can bet school officials and church/state separation experts will be speaking out a lot more about the constitutionality of the useless bill.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)