AP Photo/Francois Mori; files
Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, Texas public schools are now required by state law HB 1287 to offer an elective course on the Bible as literature. The law was enacted in 2007 and gave school districts two years to prepare for the added curriculum.
News reports from KTLV and other sources have been reporting the story this week due to the approaching start of the academic calendar. Here are some key points from the bill, some of which have not been mentioned in the recent reporting:
1. The course is elective
- In fact, the bill states that if “fewer than 15 students at a school district campus register to enroll in a course required by this section [of HB 1287], the district is not required to offer at that campus for that semester.” Therefore, if demand for such a course is low, then the school doesn’t have to offer it. However, if the demand is there through voluntary enrollments for the course, then the school is required to offer it.
2. The course teaches the Bible as an influential book of Literature
- The Bible is the number one printed book in human history. Whether one believes in God or not, one cannot deny the widespread influence of the Bible on worldwide culture and thinking. The bill states that the course is an “academic study of the Bible,” and a course “on the Bible’s Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament and their impact on the history and literature of Western Civilization.”
- Features of the course are the “content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including art, music, more, oratory, and public policy.” Also, the course teaches the “influence of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament on law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values, and culture.”
3. The purpose of the course is not to proselytize or indoctrinate students
- The bill states that: "A course offered under this section shall follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of students in their school district. A course under this section shall not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective. Nothing in this statute is intended to violate any provision of the United States Constitution or federal law, the Texas Constitution or any state law, or any rules or guidelines provided by the United States Department of Education or the Texas Education Agency."
- Teachers chosen to teach the course are required to be trained on how to, among other things, “avoid devotional content or proselytizing in the classroom.”
4. The bill does not prohibit school districts from offering course on the impact of other religious thought if the demand exists for such courses
- The bill clearly states: "This section does not prohibit the board of trustees of
a school district from offering an elective course based on the books of a religion other than Christianity. In determining whether to offer such a course, the board may consider various factors, including student and parent demand for such a course and the impact
such books have had on history and culture."
- Yes, the bill singles out Hebrew and Christian writings. Those happen to be the writings with the greatest worldwide acceptance and impact. That’s certainly a topic worthy of study. The Bible has passed the test of time. Many have tried to destroy it or impede its impact, but none succeeded. In any other context, that’s a great story.
If this bill was as controversial as some have deemed it, then it would not have passed. In fact, the bill states that it must pass with a super-majority of two-thirds "yes" vote of both houses before it could become law. It did.
Who goes to public schools? Children of the residents of that state. Those residents and their elected school boards should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the education of their children. The fact that Texans decided to give their students the option to learn about a world-changing historical document isn’t especially controversial in that context.
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