I’ll See Your Bible and Raise You a Torah

There's a proposed bill in the NC senate (SB 138) that would allow local school boards to offer elective courses in Bible study at their high schools.  This would probably cause some consternation with folks who see this kind of thing as violating the separation of church and state, but quite honestly if it's an elective that seems to be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand it does seem to put the state in the position of favoring one religion over others since it doesn't include other religious texts like the Torah or the Koran.

If the intent of the course is not to indoctrinate students but to study how the the Bible has influenced society then it could be seen as a legitimate educational effort rather than an effort to indoctrinate non-religious or non-Christian students.  And if that's the case then why not write the bill so that school's could offer similar courses to study the Torah, the Koran or other religious texts that have obviously had a tremendous impact on our world? 

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the text of the bill to see if we can discern the intent. Here it is:

5 The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:
6 SECTION 1. G.S. 115C-81 is amended by adding a new subsection to read:
7 "(g4) Bible Study Elective. – Local boards of education may offer to students in grades
8 nine through 12 elective courses for credit on the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), the New
9 Testament, or a combination of the two subject matters. A student shall not be required to use a
10 specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament and may use as
11 the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament approved
12 by the local board of education or the principal of the student's school. A course offered by a
13 local board of education in accordance with this subsection shall (i) follow federal and State
14 law in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views,
15 traditions, and perspectives of the students of the local school administrative unit and (ii) not
16 endorse, favor or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religion,
17 nonreligious faith, or religious perspective. Courses may include the following instruction:
18 (1) Knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are
19 prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including
20 literature, art, music, mores, oratories, and public policies.
21 (2) Familiarity with the contents, history, style, structure, and societal influence
22 of the Hebrew scriptures or the New Testament."
23 SECTION 2. This act is effective when it becomes law and applies beginning with
24 the 2013-2014 school year.

At first blush it seems innocuous enough, but you still have to ask why other prominent religious texts aren't included.  By not including them it's easy to see how people would assume the underlying intent is to introduce Christianity to the public schools, and as mentioned before it definitely seems to put the state in the position of favoring one religion over another.

Let's end with a fun scenario game:

  1. Bill becomes law.
  2. School district decides to offer Bible elective at its high schools.
  3. Two-thirds of the way through the course a teacher, who's a Baptist, goes out on maternity leave and the replacement teacher is a Mormon.
  4. Parents of several students demand either a different teacher be assigned to the course or that their children be allowed to transfer out of the class without penalty. Their argument is that they don't want their children being fed "lies" by that "cultist."

Wouldn't it be fun to be a fly on the wall of the principal's office that day.
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Bill would create Bible study elective for high schools

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