Senate Bill 138, offering high school elective courses in Bible studies, is problematic for many reasons: It likely will not be implemented as intended and the costs of adequate implementation have not been addressed at all. The end result will be a failed program that will put our school districts in legal jeopardy and North Carolina taxpayers in financial jeopardy.
In 2007, Texas passed a similar bill intended to promote elective Bible courses while protecting the religious freedom of students and families, just as SB 138 intends. A study recently released by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund found that most of the schools failed to adhere to guidelines to protect the religious freedom of students.
Southern Methodist University Professor Mark Chancey, who conducted the study, stated that, “Academically, many of these classes lack rigor and substance, and some seem less interested in cultivating religious literacy than in promoting religious beliefs.” He concluded that “evidence of sectarian bias, predominantly favoring perspectives of conservative Protestantism, is widespread.”
Part of the problem in Texas seems to be that the state failed to allocate adequate funds for teacher training or curriculum development. One teacher in Abilene complained: “It would be nice to have some training and some guidance, but I’ll just have to wing it on my own. I’ll make it up as I go.”
SB 138 does nothing to make sure teachers receive adequate training to teach these courses in ways that ensure that constitutional guidelines are followed and religious freedom of students protected. Failure to address this issue in the bill invites the kind of problems experienced in Texas and will set the stage for numerous legal battles on the local level when inadequately trained teachers fail to follow the constitutional guidelines.
Our public schools at the high school level are not equipped to ensure that these classes are taught as intended. The cost to hire or prepare teachers and create the curriculum to ensure the classes meet constitutional muster is prohibitive in the current economic climate.
We also object to the favoritism of the Christian religion inherent in the bill and wonder why the legislature would propose elective courses in the “holy” book of one religion and not any other. This is discriminatory on its face.
Colleges are better suited and equipped to teach classes in religious studies. Free Bible study classes are already available for those interested in the abundance of Christian churches across the state.
Jennifer Lovejoy and Susanne Werner of Durham are co-chairmen of the Secular Coalition for North Carolina