Clergy, Parents Voice Concerns About Public School Bible Classes

Clergy, Parents Voice Concerns About Public School Bible Classes

New Report Reveals Poor Quality, Bias, Religious Agendas in Texas Courses

September 13, 2006

AUSTIN Clergy and parents are voicing serious concerns that Bible classes in Texas public schools are of poor quality and promote religious views that discriminate against children from a variety of faith backgrounds.

“The study of the Bible deserves the same respect as the study of Huck Finn, Shakespeare and the Constitution,” said the Rev. Dr. Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin. “But in some public schools, Bible courses are being used to promote an agenda rather than to enrich the education of our schoolchildren.”

Rev. Paynter spoke as the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a new report on how Texas public schools teach about the Bible. Rabbi Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler and Margie Medrano, a Roman Catholic parent in Austin, also spoke at the press conference.

The Texas Freedom Network has been monitoring efforts in Texas and other states where groups are trying to use public school Bible courses to promote primarily fundamentalist Protestant religious views not shared by people of most other faiths, said TFN President Kathy Miller. Some courses promote, for example, fringe ideas such as a 6,000-year-old earth, the notion that dinosaurs roamed the earth with Adam and Eve and the belief that God ordained an inferior role for women in society. One district even teaches long-discredited interpretations of Scripture that once were used to justify slavery and segregation.

“We stand with the many parents who believe Bible courses are a wonderful way to teach students about the importance of religion in history and literature,” Miller said. “But pressure groups have hijacked a good idea. They betray the faith families place in public schools by misusing Bible courses to promote their own narrow religious beliefs over all others.”

The author of the new report, Reading, Writing and Religion: Teaching the Bible in Texas Public Schools, is Prof. Mark Chancey, a biblical scholar at Southern Methodist University. The report is available here. Many courses and their teachers failed to meet minimal academic standards and qualifications, Prof. Chancey said.

“Many schools portray their Bible classes as social studies or literature courses,” Prof. Chancey said. “Yet, intentionally or not, most are really courses about the religious beliefs of the teacher or minister leading the class or of those who created the course materials.”

The TFN Education Fund used the Texas Public Information Act to survey the state’s more than 1,000 public school districts for the report. All ultimately responded, with 33 districts indicating that they had offered a Bible class at some point since the 2000-01 school year. The new report is based on instructional materials obtained from the 25 school districts that acknowledged offering a Bible course in the 2005-06 school year. Some are large urban school districts, while others are located in small rural communities around the state.

The report lauds the approach taken by three Texas public school districts North East in San Antonio, Leander northwest of Austin, and Whiteface in West Texas. On the whole, their Bible courses are objective, nonsectarian and avoid many of the problems noted in other school districts.