Kentucky teachers shouldn’t be trying to convert your kids

Published 9:09 am Thursday, January 18, 2018


Guest columnist

Here’s an idea.

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Why not worry more about whether public school district administrators in Kentucky can pass constitutional literacy tests and worry less about whether kids can pass Bible literacy classes.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky sent a letter recently to the state Education Department saying that some teachers in Kentucky were promoting Christianity through Bible literacy classes that began earlier this school year.

The ACLU surveyed all 173 school districts and found that while many hadn’t adopted Bible literacy into their curricula, some of them had. And they were doing it all wrong.

Some of the teachers were using the Bible to teach life lessons, while others were using online Sunday School lessons and worksheets to supplement their teaching. In McCracken County, students were being forced to memorize passages from the Bible.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got no problem with the Bible. What I have a problem with is teachers who have different beliefs than parents imposing their own brand of religion on students.

In public schools.

Biblical life lessons, Sunday School teaching aides, rote memorization of Bible verses?

None of these things do much to promote secular learning about the Bible and its influence on our culture, which is what these Bible literacy classes are supposed to be all about.

Wink. Wink.

Who would have thought that might be a problem in a state that went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 in a failed effort to require that public schools post the Ten Commandments in classrooms? (Sarcasm alert.)

In Kentucky, we have a long record of trying to use the government to instill religious beliefs in our citizens. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court had to step in again and bar two counties from posting the commandments in courthouses.

This really has to stop.

Secular subjects are best taught in public schools, and most religious courses are properly taught in churches, synagogues and schools affiliated with them.

There’s pretty good reason for that.

Jews and Christians read the Old Testament differently. Even Christian faiths can’t agree on the meaning of the Bible.

Some Christians take everything in the Bible as not just truth, but also as fact. If the Bible says that Adam and Eve existed, then by gosh, they existed.

But other religions — my religion, for instance — believe that the New Testament is historical fact but allows for the belief that the Old Testament includes some stories, akin to the New Testament’s parables, that are there to help explain a complex world to a primitive people.

How else can you explain the passage in Genesis that says God created a firmament, or a massive dome, to separate the waters above the earth from the waters below it?

The Voyager I spacecraft has traveled nearly 13.2 billion miles from Earth and is in interstellar space and still hasn’t found the dome. It doesn’t exist.

Some Christians believe that the earth is 6,000 years old because of what they read in the Bible despite scientific evidence that sets its age at about 4.5 billion years.

Roman Catholics like me have accepted the science on this one — maybe in part because of that time 400 years ago when we kind of screwed up with our condemnation of Galileo and his belief that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Here’s where I bet dollars to doughnuts that if you’re an Evangelical Christian, you’ve decided, no matter how much you like the idea of Bible literacy classes, you really don’t want me teaching Bible literacy to your children.

See. That’s the problem with this whole thing.

These classes, by their nature, are not going to be non-religious or non-sectarian. In Barren County, students are required to know about 34 missionaries. All of them Protestant Christians. Not a Junipero Serra or Francis Xavier in the lot.

No public school teacher should be in a position to influence your child’s religious beliefs. And that’s where the bigger, legal question arises.

The U.S. Constitution says that government shouldn’t take a role in promoting religion.

If state legislators insist on making these types of classes available to students, which they did last year when they passed a law saying Bible literacy classes were acceptable, school districts need to make sure they’re following the law.

We know that’s not happening in the schools that are teaching Bible literacy.

We know it wasn’t happening in Powell County, where a student was being bullied because he didn’t want to attend a religious activity in an elementary school gymnasium before classes each morning.

You know what this state really needs?

Less forced religion. More constitutional literacy.

Joseph Gerth is a writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, where this column originally appeared.