Earlier this year, Florida State Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Democrat, introduced a bill that would have required public schools to offer an elective Bible class to students.
The only good thing you could say about HB 195 was that it took measures to require objectivity and neutrality.
But high schools would still have to offer a “secular program of education” that included:
An objective study of the Bible, including, but not limited to, a course on the Hebrew Scriptures and Old Testament of the Bible; a course on the New Testament of the Bible; and a course on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, and the New Testament of the Bible. A student may not be required to use a specific translation of the Hebrew Scriptures or Bible as the sole text for the course.
The problem with that legislation was that forcing high schools to offer these classes in Christianity could be seen as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. (It’s not like anyone was teaching the Qur’an as an elective.) Also, by requiring districts to hire teachers for these classes specifically, Daniels would force them to use money that could have been used to hire teachers in other core subjects. (In theory, by demanding schools hire a Bible teacher to work with, say, a few students per class, an English teacher could be stuck with an excessive roster that could have been alleviated with another teacher in that department.)
In short, this wasn’t just a constitutional concern. Daniels wanted to micromanage school districts in a way that would hamper their ability to teach all students. It was bad policy, and it was possibly illegal policy, no matter how much she stressed the courses would be taught in a neutral fashion.
In March, that bill passed through the State House’s PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee on an 11-3 vote (which told you just how loosely they define “quality”).
Daniels even skipped the first day of the legislative session to go tape a segment for Pat Robertson‘s The 700 Club promoting her bill. When asked about opposition to the bill, Daniels said the only reason people opposed it was that “people hate Christianity so much that they don’t even want people to study the Bible historically or culturally.” She added that the bill revealed “there’s a lot of persecution going on in America against people of faith.”She was lying, obviously. The main reason people opposed the bill had nothing to do with anti-Christian prejudice. There were plenty of opportunities to discuss the historical and cultural impact of the Bible in, say, a Comparative Religions class. But Daniels, through this bill, singled out Christianity in a way that suggested there was something true about it in a way she would never do with other religions — even ones like Islam that have also shaped the course of world history.
It also wasn’t true that atheists were afraid of kids reading the Bible. As the saying goes, “the road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover.”
The bill eventually made it to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee… where it was “indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.”
That’s one death we can all celebrate.
But Daniels has now re-filed the exact same bill — it’s now HB 341 — for the next legislative session. The bill’s text is identical to the previous version, except it would go into effect on July 1, 2020, if passed.
I’m hopeful lawmakers will ignore this bill just as they ignored the last one.
Daniels, by the way, has a history of promoting Christianity through the government and looking like a fool in the process. In 2017, she condemned witches and warlocks while calling on everyone to pray for Donald Trump. (It didn’t help.) She responded to the Parkland massacre by getting public schools to put up “In God We Trust” signs. (It doesn’t help.) She’s even insisted she cured a friend’s cancer using an audio CD of Bible verses. (She was wrong.)
And she once told a church crowd that she thanked God for slavery.
Students and teachers in Florida deserve so much better than a legislator who thinks mandatory Bible class offerings would make things better in the state. Maybe one day, they’ll elect a more competent replacement.
(Thanks to David for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)