Bible classes don’t belong in public schools, FFRF tells W.Va. schools

 

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 has sent 55 letters, to pretty much every school district and superintendent in West Virginia. The Legislature in that state just passed a bill, H.B. 4780, that allows school districts to teach bible classes in public schools. The bill was lifted directly 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 a single 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 Un-American.

Project Blitz bible class bills were also proposed in Florida, Missouri, New York and Virginia. All of these measures died or have been indefinitely suspended in those state legislatures due to the coronavirus.

As that list indicates, Project Blitz has, for the most part, 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 2019 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 explains 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 claim 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,” writes Seidel. 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.”

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 Tennessee class in the same county that was the site of the infamous Scopes monkey trial and a West Virginia class teaching that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs.

“The Mercer County, W.Va., lawsuit, which is still ongoing but which forced the local board of education to suspend the 75-year-old class, is particularly instructive for the other districts in the state,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “If West Virginia school districts aren’t careful, they’ll be inviting similar legal challenges — and losses.”

The new law also claims that understanding the bible is a “prerequisite to understanding the development of American … public policy.” FFRF Co-President Dan Barker disagrees: “Unless we’re talking about justifying slavery or subjugating women, the bible had little influence on American public policy.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit with 31,000 members nationwide, including in West Virginia. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between church and state, and to educate the public about matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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