In the small, rural town of Frankenmuth, the year-long debate over the establishment of a class on the Bible at the local high school has reached a turning point. A petition signed by more than 25 percent of the community requesting the course has reached the board of education, generating intense controversy along the way. The class, which teaches the Bible to students in the form of historic fact, is an unambiguous infringement on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This specific curriculum, promoted by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, is being taught in over 275 school districts in 35 states. According to The Associated Press, the course presents the Bible from a “Protestant Christian perspective,” teaching popular Bible stories “as history.” But, as board member David Pendleton told The Associated Press, “I would love to see it. Other board members would love to do it. But can we do it legally? I don’t think so.” The conservative Frankenmuth community may express its support for the class, but, as in all cases, such support is no justification for an unconstitutional class.
In stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the Establishent Clause of the First Amendment establishes the separation of church and state. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld this doctrine, rejecting state-sponsored prayer and the government funding of religious schools. If the Board of Education approves this course, it would be a clear, unconstitutional endorsement of Protestant Christianity. Teaching the Bible as history would violate the Lemon test established by Chief Justice Warren Burger, as it would promote a particular religion and the course in itself would cause “an excessive government entanglement with religion.”
Public schools such as the University have successfully taught courses on the Bible in a classroom setting, but have presented it purely as literature or in a context of world religions. Using the Bible in one of these approaches, especially in conjunction with the Qur’an, the Torah, the Vedas, the Book of Mormon and other important religious texts could result in a highly interesting and educational class that does not impose Christianity and complies with the tenets of the Constitution.
This debate may be the first of many coming battles concerning similar propositions nationwide. The Frankenmuth Board of Education must recognize the serious threat that a Bible course would pose to the preservation of its students’ civil liberties and reject this proposal. Should board members turn a blind eye to the unconstitutionality of this class, it regrettably becomes the responsibility of legally conscious citizens to prevent the imposition of Christianity in public schools by taking immediate legal action.