Published in the Raleigh News & Observer as an OpEd.
The Secular Coalition for North Carolina is extremely concerned about the recently proposed Senate Bill 138 offering students in grades 9-12 elective courses in Bible studies.
We believe this bill is problematic for many reasons, that it will likely not be implemented as intended, that the costs of adequate implementation have not been addressed, and that the end result will be a failed program which will put our school districts in legal jeopardy and North Carolina taxpayers in financial jeopardy.
We would like to cite Texas as an example of what we think is the likely outcome of this bill. In 2007, Texas passed House Bill 1278, a very similar bill to SB Bill 138. It was intended to promote elective Bible courses while protecting the religious freedom of students and families, just as SB Bill 138 is intended to do. 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 of Religious Studies 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 reason for these problems with implementation of the bill in Texas seems to be that the state failed to allocate adequate funds for teacher training or curriculum development. One teacher in Abilene, Texas complained that “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.”
We would like to point out that Bill SB 138 does absolutely nothing to make sure that teachers receive adequate training to teach these courses in such a way so as to ensure that constitutional guidelines are followed and the religious freedom of students is protected. We contend that the failure to address this issue in the bill is highly irresponsible and short-sighted, inviting the kind of problems now being experienced in Texas, and will set the stage for numerous future legal battles to be fought out on the local level when inadequately trained teachers fail to follow the constitutional guidelines.
We believe that our public schools at the high school level are not currently equipped to ensure these classes are taught as intended, that the resulting legal battles will be costly to the local communities across the state, and that 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.
Finally, we object to the favoritism of the Christian religion inherent in the bill. We question why the legislature would propose elective courses in the “holy” book of one religion and not any other. We feel this is discriminatory on its face and question the intentions and motivations of those proposing and supporting the bill.
In sum, we strongly object to and oppose this bill.
We suggest that colleges are better suited and equipped to teach classes in religious studies, and that free Bible study classes are already available for those interested in the abundance of Christian churches across the state.