Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thursday's Texas Trio

In the spirit of today's look at Texas...

ODESSA, Texas (AP) -- The school board in the West Texas town of Odessa voted unanimously to add a Bible class to its high school curriculum.
Check out the article on CNN.

For starters, lets assume away all constitutional objections to this happening. (To pass constitutional muster, other courses - near Eastern religions, Hinduism, etc - would likely also have to be offered as electives, as they are in state universities across the country.)

From my own personal experience, "Bible" courses are great. In college, it was my "Hebrew Scriptures" and "New Testament" courses that first made me question whether or not the Bible fell from heaven - i.e. was the infallible word of God - or was in fact written by men and accumulated over time. This was definitely a turning point in my religious life - in no other setting had I ever been exposed to the idea that the Bible could be anything other than divinely inspired truth.

Coming from this background, I am not so quick to dismiss this course as bible-beaters trying to sneak "Christianity" into the public school system. Granted, that could be exactly what is going on here...

That aside, I believe that a historical look at the Bible can do students a lot of good, especially if it is offering them a perspective unlikely to be heard via their local pulpits. While offering a Bible-only course smacks of religious favoritism and risks being nothing more than Bible-study on campus, I do think there is a need for a discussion of religious philosophies and texts within the public school system. I challenege Odessa I.S.D. to put their money where their mouths are: give us religious discourse in the public schools in an even-handed (and constitutional) way. You might just be surprised at what you find.

Besides, aren't true Christians ones that choose the faith as their own, not ones that have it shoved down their throats their whole lives?


At 4:34 PM, Blogger Infission said...

I wholly agree with your analysis of this issue - and with your implicit view of Church and State.

Ambivalence is the appropriate response to the school board's actions. The Left is often all too ready to attack any hint of religion in the public sphere, while the Right is often all too ready to privilege orthodox Protestantism and defend blatantly discriminatory laws.

I too challenge Oddessa to stop its discrimination: to add classes that explore other sacred texts and also secular moral philosophies. But I also challenge other school districts to ADD courses in religion and moral philosophy.

Schools should be zones of moral and religious exploration. They should niether be realms where morality and religion are off limits nor realms of indoctrination.

At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Burleez said...

The Odessa school board's decision provides a great opportunity for the organized Left to demonstrate that it 1) has learned a lesson from the gay marriage campaign, and 2) is ready to recognize that secular liberalism does not mean secular elitism.

The last thing groups like the ACLU and Americans for the Separation of Church and State should do is "run to their friends in the federal judiciary" (as the Religious Right will say) and demand that they "throw the Bible and God and Jesus out of the schools, where they belong" (as the secular Left itself will surely say). This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that makes the Right feel persecuted, inflames their disdain for federal judges and federal law, and weakens Progressive attempts to reach out to people of Christian faith.

Is it the duty of the federal courts to protect against the Establishment of Religion? Absolutely. Does Odessa's decision to teach a historical course on the Bible violate the Constitution? I'd say yes to the extent the school is privileging Christianity over other religions. Should the organized Left act to protect the right to be free from Odessa's discriminatory behavior? Definitely, but it must do so in a way that recognizes the value of religious history and philosophy, and in a way that does not disparage the rights and dignity of people of faith.

An impossible task? Hardly so. One way might be to begin a dialouge (gasp!) with the Odessa supporters of the Bible course. Progressives would be amazed at the results if, before running to court, we first admitted to the value of learning religious history, all the while stressing that it's equally valuable and important to learn about other religious cultures and histories. But perhaps I ask for too much.

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Infission said...

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anna said...

I have been thinking about this issue lately and found these two resources helpful:

I think I am on the same page you are when I say education on world religions in public schools is vital to an informed citizenry. Christianity could even be privileged slightly because we would need to cover it for longer to include its role in our country's formation, but without leaving out the other major faiths of the world. A class on bible as literature also wouldn't be a violation I think because it is such a foundation for much western literature, which is primarily what is studied in public schools. But caution is also warranted due to some people trying to make this serve their own proselytizing agenda which has no place in the public schools.


At 3:06 PM, Blogger Infission said...

Thanks Anna! And welcome!

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Infission said...

Do you write "Call and Response"? I'm adding it to our links - which hopefully will start loading correctly again soon!

Very interesting stuff. I defintely consider myself a "UUChristian" with all both UU and Christian being equally central to my religious identity.


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