Critical Commentary: Church, State and Bible Class in Texas

Posted on May 20, 2013 by


Church, State and Bible Class in Texas

Keith Tessin

Throughout American history, it has always been a priority and a struggle to completely separate religion from education. The debate of separation of Church and State is burning as strong as ever with issues of Bible Class in High School. In the article, “Church, State and Bible Class in Texas,” Mark Oppenheimer describes the specific situation at East Land High School with a few of the teachers there. The debate there is an ongoing one that has continued since the Supreme Court ruling in 1963 which states that the Bible can be used in a school curriculum as long as it is, “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.” The key is objectivity, judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices. The issue with that is that it is almost impossible to teach such a subject without having some sort of bias toward the idea of religion in general. A bias of this nature is as simple as the portrayal of the stories in the Bible as a historically accurate text. For example, saying that the Miracle Stories in the Bible actually happened is a very subjective interpretation of the reading and to teach the Bible in that way is far from objectivity.

Mark Chancey, in his second study of public schools in Texas, continues the explanation by stating, “Bible courses in public schools are constitutionally permissible as long as they are taught in an academic manner that does not cross the line into religious instruction or religiously biased presentation.” However, again we are dealing with the human ability to not show bias towards something that they are passionate about. With religion, our beliefs often shape how we view the world in all aspects of life, which form who you are as a person. Mark continues this argument by acknowledging that many who are hired to teach such Bible classes, are ministers who are trained in spreading the gospel.  With that, it seems fairly unrealistic for a minister to be at church on Sunday subjectively spreading the word of the Bible but come Monday morning be completely objective in discussing the same readings. Regardless of intent, it is nearly impossible for some bias to sneak through.

Another issue lies with the large scale regulation. With any operation, things become more and more difficult to manage as the number of things being regulated increases. In addition to that, it is subjectivity that is trying to be regulated. Trying to define what counts as subjective is difficult enough in itself, let alone trying to monitor that definition across that large scale number of classes, teachers, schools, districts, states, and as a country. Continuing with the idea of that progression, it seems that it should be regulated the same across the board because the ruling is coming from the interpretation of the Constitution; applicable to all citizens of the United States. With the idea of consistency, one must be careful with the different interpretations and translations of the Bible that are being used. In almost any translation between languages there are words are phrases that do not translate directly and literally. It then becomes the translator’s best representation of what the phrase was trying to express. This interpretation inserts bias into the text before it ever reaches a classroom. Thus, if there is going to be regulation on how the Bible is taught, there should also be a consistent interpretation or translation that all teachers are allowed to use. After all things are considered, we can then know that we are giving each student the best chance to not be subjected to a bias environment; the ultimate goal.

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