Bible classes in public schools are financial and legal time bombs, especially when tied to Christian nationalism, asserts the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The national state/church watchdog is dispatching an impressive number of letters — 1,093 — to every school district and superintendent in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, and the Arkansas state Department of Education (which drafts a statewide curriculum). Legislatures in all four states recently passed bills to hold bible classes in public schools — bills lifted from the playbook of Project Blitz, a Christian nationalist attempt to take over statehouses.
“Project Blitz starts with small bills that seem ceremonial or innocuous, but it has one goal: to make Christians a favored class in America, and turn all non-Christians into second-class citizens,” says FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, a constitutional attorney who drafted the letters. “It’s Christian nationalism at its worst.” Seidel is the author of a new book on the threat of Christian nationalism called The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is UnAmerican.
Project Blitz bible class bills were also proposed in Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia. All of these measures died.
As that list indicates, for the most part, Project Blitz has been a failure this year. The majority of Blitz bills have been defeated in state legislatures largely because public awareness of this Christian nationalist push is on the rise. An April poll found that nearly half of Americans view Christian nationalism as a threat.
This rising awareness and the legislative defeats are to a large extent because of public education pushes by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and coalition groups like BlitzWatch, of which FFRF is a member.
FFRF’s letter explain the two central dangers with bible classes. First, safeguards are needed to ensure that such fraught topics are taught objectively and critically. “Employees may teach, but not preach,” explains Seidel. This can be challenging, Seidel adds: “Few Christian parents want their public schools teaching that some bible translations only say that Jesus was born of a ‘virgin’ because they mistranslated ‘young woman.’”
Second, regardless of whatever standards are in place, teachers often turn the classes into something akin to Sunday School. “Time and again, we see well-meaning courses corrupted by teachers. Given that this is part of Project Blitz, a Christian nationalist push to invade our public schools, it cannot be called well-meaning. In practice, bible classes are rarely taught in a legal manner,” writes Seidel.
FFRF is calling for stringent teacher standards and training, and “disciplinary language and procedures to quickly and efficiently deal with teachers who . . . abuse their position to promote a particular religious view.” According to Seidel, these last requirements are particularly important: “Setting a high educational and disciplinary bar may make it more difficult for districts to implement the class, and that’s OK. It’s better to have no bible class at all than one that tramples on the rights of students.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped many unconstitutional bible classes over the years, including an Oklahoma class pushed by the Hobby Lobby family, a West Virginia class teaching that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs, and a Tennessee class in the same county as the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.
If school districts in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Arkansas aren’t careful, they’ll be inviting similar legal challenges — and losses.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit with 31,000 members nationwide, including more than 1,100 in those states. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between church and state, and to educate the public about matters relating to nontheism.