Empty Standards Mean Trouble for Public School Bible Classesby
Last year the Texas Legislature told the State Board of Education to create new, specific curriculum standards for high school elective courses about the Bible’s influence in history and literature. That was one of a number of safeguards for religious freedom that lawmakers put into the bill. In March, however, the state board decided it wants public schools to continue relying on vague, very general standards that social studies and literature teachers use to craft “independent studies” courses on a variety of topics. The board did so despite the intent of the legislation and despite research from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund showing that most Texas public schools that already rely on those vague standards end up with Bible classes that are really about the religious views of the teacher. Even worse, students in those classes may even find their own religious beliefs disparaged by the teacher and classroom materials.
Unfortunately, the Texas Attorney General’s Office yesterday said those general standards would comply with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution anyway. (That’s no surprise. The standards are so vague and so general that they say almost nothing about the Bible.) But the AG said his office can’t ensure that the classes that schools actually based on those standards would be constitutional.
House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, and fellow committee members Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, and Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, have written to the Texas Education Agency to explain that the Legislature intended that the state board develop new, specific standards for public school Bible classes. In addition, the Texas Freedom Network has warned that local school districts need those specific standards to help protect the religious freedom of their students as well as the districts themselves from lawsuits.
The state board is set to take a final vote on the Bible class standards at a meeting July 17-18. Read more about the controversy here.