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US States pass laws to promote Bible classes

Scripture literacy welcomed in schools in six states – soon to be seven

At least six US states have passed bills enabling local school boards to create “elective Bible literacy classes” as part of the social studies curriculum. And West Virginia is lining up to make it seven.

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It’s becoming quite a trend. As Newsweek reports: “The new legislation feeds off a changing political climate that has ’emboldened’ state lawmakers and public school officials ‘to inject religion into public schools’ despite widespread reservations about constitutionality, [according to] Heather Weaver, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.”

This resurgence of Bible lessons might seem surprising…

Some states have expressed this growing friendliness towards religion slightly differently. Florida allows students to organise prayer groups, religious clubs and other gatherings during the school day – and before and after, according to a new law.

The national platform of the Republican Party encourages the states to offer Bible electives because it says that “a good understanding of the Bible [is] indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.”

This resurgence of Bible lessons might seem surprising when contrasted with the 1962 decision of the US Supreme Court that banned school prayer. This was in light of the “establishment clause” of the US Constitution (the First Amendment of which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”) A second ruling in 1963 banned compulsory bible reading.

The elective character of the new Bible curricula is key to allowing them to take hold in the seven states.

“You can’t deny the impact [the Bible has] had on our culture.” D.J. Johnson

The Bible Literacy Courses in Kentucky, enabled by a 2017 law, have come under fire from that state’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“’Bible literacy’ classes being taught in some Kentucky public schools appear to violate the Constitution by promoting Christianity and Sunday school-style ‘religious life lessons,’ according to the ACLU Kentucky,” the Louisville Courier Journal reports.

A supporter of the new curriculum and Republican in the State House of Representatives, D.J. Johnson told the Louisville Courier Journal: “Whether you believe that it’s the word of God or you think it’s a complete work of fiction, you can’t deny the impact it’s had on our culture.”

In a move that makes Australia seem a parallel universe, the Kentucky state government is planning to provide statewide academic standards for the Bible literacy classes. This parallels the NSW and Queensland experience with “Scripture” classes in public schools.

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