Mandating the Bible in Schools

The Chi Rho page (folio 34R) of the Book of Kells. The page precedes the nativity story as related by St Matthew. The letters Chi, Rho and I are an abbreviation of “Christ” – 800AD

If something related to religious fanaticism is happening within an Oklahoma school, then you can more or less guarantee that it involves their Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, the now infamous Christian Nationalist.

Not too long ago, June 19 to be precise, Louisiana enacted a law that mandated that the Ten Commandments must be displayed in all Louisiana public school classrooms. (I wrote about that here last week). “Ohhh“, thinks Mr Walters over in Oklahoma, “I can go one better“, and sure enough that’s exactly what he has now done.

What exactly has he done?

During a State Board of Education meeting (you can find a full clip of that meeting here), he announces the following (at the 8:35 mark) …

We’re going to make an important announcement today regarding the Bible and the Ten Commandments. My staff has been looking at …

… it is crystal clear to us that the Bible is a necessary, historical document to teach our kids about the history of this country, to have a complete understanding of Western civilization, to have an understanding of the basis of our legal system, and it’s frankly, we’re talking about the Bible, one of the most foundational documents used for the Constitution and the birth of our country. We also find major points in history that refer to the Bible, that reference the Bible….

So we will be issuing a memo today that every school district will adhere to, which is that every teacher, every classroom in the state, will have a Bible in the classroom, and will be teaching from the Bible in the classroom, to ensure that this historical understanding is there for every student in the state of Oklahoma, in accordance with our academic standards and state law...

His justification is a factually wrong Christian Nationalist lie. The bible was not a foundational document used for either the Constitution or the birth of our nation.

Putting that aside for the moment, what exactly is he proposing?

In the clip he clearly says “every teacher” in “every classroom” … “will be teaching from the bible“.

Teaching what exactly?

That’s not initially clear.

Here is the text of the Memo

He announced that he was sending out a memo, so here it is.

The original is here …

Teach what?

He did say “Every teacher”, so what is he asking math teachers, science teachers, or Physical Education teachers to do?

We can of course speculate and have a bit of fun.

Count stacks of bibles for maths, see how high a tower of bibles you can build for science, and get lots of Physical exercise carrying all these bibles around a racetrack perhaps.

Within the actual memo sent to school district leaders, Mr. Walters does suggest the Bible should be taught as “history”.

This is utterly mad, it is not a historical text, but instead is very obviously religious propaganda. Modern archaeology confirms that it is not factual, and so does common sense (which he appears to lack). I means seriously now – Snakes don’t talk, a 600 year old guy did not build a boat and put every animal on it, there never was a worldwide flood, the earth does not predate the sun and all the stars in the universe, Moses never actually existed, there never was an actual exodus out of Egypt, etc…

Apparently this incest is also “history” …

It really is not history.

We can also ask which Bible?

The Catholic one has 7 extra books – Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch, so will he include those?

Will it be in the original Hebrew and Greek or will it be a translation, and if a translation, then which one, or will teachers have total freedom to choose?

I suspect, it will be the usual, the KJV only, along with his very specific and deeply dubious interpretation of what it supposedly says.

Will we also be seeing stuff such as the following extracted from this “history” book and propagated?

  • Maths: Pi is exactly 3
  • Geography: The world is flat
  • History: God’s specially chosen white race consists of Evangelicals, and the Constitution comes directly from the bible
  • Biology: Evolution is the lie of Satan, God did it all by magic just 6,000 years ago, and planted dinosaur bones in the ground to test your faith.
  • Astronomy: As I mentioned earlier, it also very specifically claims that planet Earth is older than the Sun and all the other stars in the universe
  • Ethics: Slavery is just fine.
  • etc…

With such a bible-based “education”, what could possibly go wrong?

Can he legally mandate this?

The NYT covered this and also turned to a legal expert who advised them (sorry, paywall at that NYT link)…

Whether Mr. Walters has authority under Oklahoma law to make such a sweeping directive to all public schools is unclear, said Andrew C. Spiropoulos, a constitutional law professor at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, who described the mandate as pushing “the edge of the envelope.”

In general, he said, courts have ruled that the Bible can be taught in public schools alongside other religious texts, or in conjunction with other works of literature.

“By singling it out as a proposal standing alone, that could be legally problematic,” Mr. Spiropoulos said.

It is indeed problematic.

I get the point being made by Mr. Spiropoulous. For those interested in such things, it is wholly appropriate to study the text in the context of a literature class or even as part of a comparative religion course, but that is not what is going on here at all.

This is about a fanatical Christian Nationalist forcing his specific variation of religion down the throats of all students. The three R’s now consists of this Holy Trinity — Indoctrination, Proselytization, and Constitutional desecration

The key to all this, as pointed out by Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is this very clear stance …

Public schools are not Sunday schools,” she said, adding, “public schools may teach about religion, but they may not preach any religion.”

This is a Mandatory Mandate that comes with threats

Mr Walters has threatened teachers who refuse to comply.

Via NBC we learn …

Oklahoma schools head Ryan Walters: Teachers who won’t teach Bible could lose license

… Oklahoma educators who refuse to teach students about the Bible could lose their teaching license, Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters said in an interview with NBC News on Friday.

Walters issued a memo Thursday instructing all Oklahoma schools to teach students in grades five through 12 about the Bible’s influence on the nation’s founding and historical American figures. Schools will also be required to stock a Bible in every classroom. So what can teachers actually do when faced with this religious fanaticism?

…“Any teacher that would knowingly, willfully disobey the law and disobey our standards — there are repercussions for that,” Walters said. “So we deal with that on a case-by-case basis, but yes, teachers have to teach Oklahoma Academic Standards and this is absolutely going to be part of them.”

Wait, hang on a moment, exactly what “law” mandates this?

I’m not sure he fully grasps that the lawbreaker here is him.

And yes, way to go for him to motivate teachers to go find jobs in states that don’t make their life hell, or simply opt for early retirement.

It is also deeply ironic to find a guy who strives to prevent “groomers” enabling kids to read about incest, genocide, and rape, is now mandating all that on all kids.

One Option: malicious compliance

His mandate will fall, that is certain, but what can teachers actually do between now and when that happens?

If the bible must be taught, then that does open up a wonderful opportunity for those bold enough to do it – malicious compliance.

The Song of Solomon, which is very very pornographic, can be used for sex education.

Teachers can also pull out the weird stuff, such as Pi being just 3 and use that to explain what Pi really is and why we know that is wrong, how we know what Pi actually is, and show how Pi is used.

Rinse and repeat for the other archaic stuff.

If he wants “History”, then give him history. Highlight how the Bible is a pro-slavery text from cover to cover, and then lay out how and why we have as a species moved beyond all that. Lay out the details of church and state separation and explain why we have it.

Teachers can also present the mandated Christian Nationalist claims and clearly show and teach that it is all lies, and present the evidence that verifies that.

In general terms, use this mandate as a tool to teach textual analysis and critical thinking. Eventually the lawyers will catch up and sort it all out, but for now there really is an opportunity here.


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