Yesterday, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would allow districts to offer elective “biblical history” classes in public schools. While the bill is carefully worded to avoid obvious litigation — it’s optional, it’s supposed to be objective, etc. — it remains a way to promote Christianity via the government in a way that would never fly for any other belief system.
Republicans naturally defended HB 4780 while Democrats asked the right critical questions.
“It was the Bible that influenced our country more than any other book,” said Del. Tom Fast, (R) Fayette.
“The message that will be heard is, only Christians are welcome in West Virginia,” said Del. John Doyle, (D) Jefferson.
“The way that they have this bill written, no. It favors one’s beliefs over another and which I think violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the West Virginia Constitution,” said Del. Mike Pushkin, (D) Kanawha.
The bill passed 73-26 with one abstention. It now moves over to the State Senate.
Remember: There would be no issue if districts taught a comparative religions course. The problem here is pretending that the Bible “influenced our country” (an exaggeration) or contains more truth than any other holy book. It’s not historical. It’s not ethical. It’s full of problems. And good luck finding someone who can teach the book objectively.
The ACLU of West Virginia posted another reason why lawmakers should reject this bill. They noted the testimony of third-grader Malcolm Cohen, a son of Jewish parents, who spoke out against the bill during a hearing on Monday because he and his brother were ostracized as a result of religion in school.
My little brother and I are the only Jewish kids in our school. One day last year, at my after-school program, the teachers taught us about Jesus and made us pledge allegiance to the Bible. It made me feel very worried and confused. I felt like I was doing something wrong.
When my mom came to pick us up, she could tell I was upset. She asked the teachers what was wrong, and they said they had made a mistake. They said me and my little brother shouldn’t have been there while they were teaching about the Bible and Jesus. They said, from now on, they would send me and my little brother to a room by ourselves when they talked about the Bible and Jesus. That solution seemed so, so stupid to me.
How would you feel if you were sent to a room all by yourself just because you are Jewish?
The lawmakers didn’t give a damn about him and voted for the bill anyway.
Almost independent of which criteria you use, West Virginia consistently ranks at or near the bottom of any list of the best states for education. They need to improve their schools. It’s too bad lawmakers think injecting religion into the school day will help when, time after time, we’ve seen that it doesn’t.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Philip for the link)