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Report: Bible Courses in Texas a Missed Opportunity E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 11 March 2013

In a report published by the Texas Freedom Network, SMU Religious Studies Professor Mark Chancey reviewed bible courses being taught in public schools across the state, pursuant to a law passed in 2007. Today's Houston Chronicle includes an op-ed in which Chancey summarizes his finding, lamenting that "Texas had the opportunity to be a national leader in teaching about the Bible in the right way, but we failed to do it."

Most courses focused solely on the Protestant Bible, as if Jewish, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles did not even exist.
Students were often taught to read the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament strictly through Christian eyes as a set of predictions about Jesus. ("Which prophet foretold that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem?" one test asks.) This approach ignores the fact that Jews, and many others, read those passages very differently.

Judaism in general fares quite poorly, often coming across as a legalistic or lifeless religion that was superseded by Christianity.

Creation science and other pseudo-scholarship creep into some classrooms, as in those where students learn that the biblical book of Genesis is scientifically accurate when read correctly.

Many courses treat the Bible, miracle stories et al, as straightforward, completely accurate, unproblematic history - a religious approach that federal courts have flagged as unconstitutional in a public school setting.

The law included safeguards meant to protect against just these sorts of violations occurring but Chancey reports those safeguards are rarely if ever followed. He did also highlight a few schools that were teaching the course properly., but they were exceptions. 

The Constitution does allow for teaching *about* the Bible in the right setting, when teachers refrain from using it as a tool to promote religious ideas or otherwise proselytize. Chancey's report drives home the inescapable point that while constitutional, a Bible course is a difficult tightrope for most educators, given the lack of training and support. That it can be legally done doesn't make it a wise decision for a public school curriculum. Without significant commitment to constitutional safeguards, Bible courses are better left to houses of worship and home study, and out of the public school curriculum.

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