Teaching Bible courses in public schools is already a controversial practice, but when critics launch accusations of bias in Bible course instruction, the issue becomes even more complicated. A number of Texas school districts are now coming under scrutiny for failing to meet legal requirements ensuring impartiality and academic rigor in the teaching of Bible course electives. The problem highlights the shaky foundation on which the practice rests, and should give Universal Life Church ministers cause for concern.
The accusations were based in part on a study conducted by Mark Chancey, a Southern Methodist University professor, for the Texas Freedom Network, an organization which monitors right-wing activity in Texas. According to Chancey’s findings, among the 60 school districts which took advantage of a 2007 Texas bill allowing elective Bible courses in public schools (as well as tax-funded charter schools), only 11 schools were considered “most successful” in terms of constitutionality and academic rigor. The organization also claims that the courses are characterized by “problematic” treatment of Judaism, sectarian bias favoring conservative Protestantism, and “pseudo-scientific scholarship” that “reflects ideological biases such as the belief in an America founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles“. The bill fails to provide teachers with an unbiased curriculum, they argue, because it is too vague and lacks concrete guidelines.
Chancey’s findings highlight the inherent difficulty in ensuring religious neutrality in Bible courses, even when those courses are optional. As suggested above, one likely reason for the bias is the assumption that Protestant Christianity forms the ideological foundation of American culture and history, and should therefore be emphasized. However, even if this were so, education is not just about exposing oneself to familiar traditions and ideas; it is also about exposing oneself to new, unfamiliar traditions and ideas. Consequently, there is greater academic value in giving equal attention to multiple religions in the form of a comparative religion curriculum. Besides, as most who become ministers in the ULC will agree, even if the Bible lessons themselves were being taught impartially, there still exists bias in the fact that only Bible courses are being offered.
This inherent bias requires a funding source, moreover, and for public schools (and most charter schools), this funding source comes in the form of public tax dollars. The problem with funding sectarian Bible courses with public tax dollars is that some tax-payers do not share the views propounded in the coursework. It is hard enough ensuring taxes go to fund impartial comparative religious coursework. It seems grossly unfair, then, to force tax-payers to fund religious instruction which betrays ideological leanings in conflict with those of the tax-payers–it is an impingement on religious freedom which ordained ministers of online churches have long challenged.
Ostensibly, the 2007 Texas law allowing Bible course electives in tax-funded schools preserves religious neutrality, but if the Texas Education Agency’s findings are correct, it has allowed systematic bias toward conservative Protestantism to flourish. Those who get ordained online in nondenominational churches do so in part to nurture interfaith dialogue, but is this kind of thing realistic in tax-funded high schools, or is it too risky? Tell us what you think.
The Austin American-Statesman
The Dallas Morning News