MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last night named the Texas State Board of Education the day’s “Worst Person in the World” for requiring that Texas public schools teach about the Bible. Check out a video clip here. (The clip begins with a commercial and two runners-up to the “Worst Person in the World.”)
In truth, it’s a bit more complicated that Olbermann suggests. First, the law on Bible classes is a product of the Texas Legislature in 2007, not a requirement of the State Board of Education. The Texas Freedom Network succeeded in getting the legislation amended so that public schools would not be required to offer separate courses about the Bible. The Texas attorney general has said, however, that the law requires public high schools to provide instruction about the Bible’s influence in history and literature somewhere in the curriculum.
TFN also succeeded in getting various safeguards for religious freedom in the bill. Those safeguards, if obeyed, would keep instruction about the Bible from turning into opportunities to evangelize in public schools.
Still, the State Board of Education deserves a heap of criticism. One of the law’s key safeguards for religious freedom is a requirement that the state board adopt specific curriculum standards for schools that choose to offer Bible courses. The purpose of that requirement is to provide guidance to schools on how to teach about the Bible’s influence in history and literature without turning public schools into Sunday schools. But the state board threw school disricts under the bus by deliberately adopting vague, very general guidelines that offer no help for districts trying to create appropriate courses. No surprise.