Like several other Republican-dominated states using the Project Blitz playbook, Alabama is on the verge of passing a “Bible literacy” bill.
In theory, these classes would be fine since they’re intended to teach the Bible in an objective way — it’s hard to understand literary allusions, for example, without a basic understanding of biblical mythology — but too often these bills are just vehicles for proselytizing. Teachers might promote the Bible instead of treating it objectively, and the classes themselves suggest an authority to the Bible that isn’t extended to other holy books.
The Alabama bill, SB 14, goes even further than most.
At first, it’s fine. It allows optional classes on the Old Testament, New Testament, or both, as well as a more comprehensive course on “religious history.” The bill also requires teachers to be objective and neutral.
But it also says classes can discuss the influence of the Bible on “morals” and “values,” permits principals to display “artifacts, monuments, symbols, and texts”… and says school boards cannot be sued over any “liability exposure created by this act.”
American Atheists puts that in English:
… SB 14 encourages teachers to discuss the Bible as a source of morality and public policy. It also allows schools to display “religious materials” like crosses during certain classes. Under SB 14, parents can’t sue the school districts if teachers try to indoctrinate children, a provision that blatantly violates parents’ and students’ First Amendment rights.
“Just like Alabama’s abortion ban, this ‘Bible class’ bill is a clear challenge to constitutional precedent,” said Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President for Legal and Policy. “This bill is so extreme it even encourages school districts and teachers to break the law and proselytize, since it claims to shield them from legal responsibility.”
In theory, there’s nothing in this bill preventing a teacher from putting Christian crosses all over the classroom the way you might see the letters of the alphabet in a grade school.
That last statement is huge, too. The bill calls for neutrality, but if teachers break that rule and proselytize, the school district will never have to pay a price for it. If there’s a lawsuit that results in a payout for the plaintiffs, the bill says it’ll be covered by state taxpayers.
If you’re a school district, then, what’s stopping you from finding a pastor with teaching credentials to run the classes no differently from Sunday school? You literally have nothing to lose.
If Gov. Kay Ivey signs this bill — and she’s totally going to sign this bill — the lawsuits are already waiting for her since the bill is already problematic. If the classes begin anyway, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn about additional lawsuits.
“The Alabama legislature is pushing the courts to overturn decades of rulings,” added Gill. “As with the abortion ban, the extremists behind this ‘Bible class’ bill hope it will reach the Supreme Court — and completely upend the separation of religion and government, turning public schools into little more than Sunday schools.”
It’s not too late for Ivey. But if you’re counting on her to do the right thing, prepare to be disappointed.
(Image via Shutterstock)