As numerous US states introduce bills that would require or encourage ‘Bible literacy’ classes in public schools, President Trump has given the proposals the thumbs-up, calling the idea “great!”
Lawmakers in six states have introduced ‘Bible literacy’ bills, aimed at encouraging high schoolers to brush up on the Old and New Testaments alongside their regular subjects.
The state lawmakers say they want to restore traditional values in schools, while critics including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the proposals violate the separation of church and state. The elective classes would allow students to earn extra credit for studying the Bible from a historical and literary perspective.
Although quiet on the topic until now, President Donald Trump sided with the religious lobby on Monday. “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” he tweeted. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”
Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2019
The bills have been introduced this month in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, VIrginia, and West Virginia. Similar bills in Alabama, Iowa, and West Virginia failed to pass last year, and a bill allowing elective Bible and Hebrew Scriptures classes passed in Kentucky in 2017.
In all six states considering Bible literacy bills, the House and Senate are both under Republican control. All six have Republican governors, except Virginia. Many of these Republicans have been keen to reintroduce the Bible to public schools, with state Rep. Aaron McWilliams of North Dakota telling Fox News that “without allowing the Bible into schools… we look at establishing a religion of secularism in school by not having anything else.”
The bills have the backing of a coalition of Christian groups known as Project Blitz. The coalition has published a handbook setting out its plan to bring Christian morals into public schools. Within the handbook is a Bible literacy bill template for state legislators to follow, as well as templates for similar bills to display “In God We Trust” on school buildings, and to educate children about the role religion has played in the US’ legal history.
The ACLU has argued that Bible literacy bills violate a First Amendment clause that prohibits government favoring one religion over others. The First Amendment does not prohibit all teaching of the Bible in public schools, however. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Bible may be examined as a historical text, but not used to preach Christianity to students.
The proposed bills will have to ensure the Bible is taught neutrally to avoid falling foul of the First Amendment. Virginia’s bill, for example, stated that Bible literacy classes will introduce “students to biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.”
Although President Trump has referred to the Bible as his “favorite book,” he seldom speaks publicly about his religious faith. Moreover, Trump has misquoted the Bible in several speeches, and once dismissed the idea of asking God for forgiveness in a TV interview.
Trump’s opponents ridiculed his supposed religiosity on Monday.
Trump is touting “bible literacy” classes this morning. This raises disingenuousness to a whole new level. Trump never reads any books. He is the least religious man alive, and he has certainly never read the Bible voluntarily.
— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) January 28, 2019
Trump encouraging “Bible literacy” is like Charlie Sheen advocating for more self-control.
— Dr. Susie Meister (@susie_meister) January 28, 2019
The President who openly admitted to having never asked God for forgiveness for anything, who called a book of the Bible “Two Corinthians,” and who had an affair with a porn star and a playmate while his third wife nursed his fifth child….is excited about Bible literacy
— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) January 28, 2019
Trump’s tweet was most likely a nod to the over 90 million evangelical Christian voters in the US who supported him in droves in 2016, and remain a core part of his base.
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