Friday, April 07, 2006

Tennessee Legislature Considering Funding Bible Courses

While Tennessee House Representative Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) is getting widespread notoriety for her comments against gays and lesbians adopting children, there is one initiative she is sponsoring that seems to be flying under the radar. It would allow high schools that receive public funds to teach Bible courses.

Now, I like reading the Bible as much as the next Christian; in fact, I wish that many of my conservative co-hort would more closely subscribe to Jesus's teachings, especially the Beatitudes, than they seem to. And I also took historic and cultural courses on the Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament" seems to me to be a slight against the Hebrews/Jews) and on the New Testament in both college and seminary. I think that elective courses on comparative religions for high school students would not only be appropriate, but they would be prudent, given today's total clash of faith perspectives on a global level.

So, I have no problem with the idea of allowing courses that teach non-devotional or non-proselytizing courses about religion. But let's just be clear about the slant of the bill: rather than being an honest attempt to study the role of religion in various societies, it serves to allow private and public high schools to continue to receive government money while teaching conservative Christianity as the authoritative fount of truth. It provides a back door for government funding (and hence establishing) parochial views of the world. I have no doubt that the introduction of this bill in the legislature is an attempt to shore up the evangelical theo-cons for the Republican Party in Tennessee.

While the bill provides that the courses be taught in an objective, non-sectarian manner, there is no practical way to enforce what doctrinaire teachers might say in a class of students who elect to take the class because there own doctrinaire beliefs. Monitoring by boards of education who may be sympathetic to "putting God back in the classroom" would merely provide an extra layer of insulation to establishment. Debra Maggart needs to go a long way to explain how the checks and balances of this bill are to be practically applied. Otherwise, it's just a political tool for appeasing the theo-cons, a group that tends to believe it is persecuted when it is asked to play fair in school.

04/07/2006, 10 p.m. Update: Did some more digging on this bill. Here's what it will cost the state if passed:
  • Start-up cost -- $24,000
  • Annual teacher's salary costs -- $787, 500
  • Cost of bibles and other texts -- between $27,000 and $394,000
We can pay teachers an extra $8,750 (based on a salary of $52,500) to teach a bible course, but we cannot pay them extra to teach more science and math? It's no wonder we're growing globally less competitive in our ability to graduate students with a relevant knowledge base.


  1. I've said it before, and will continue to say it - there was a time when kids went to church to learn about the Bible and to school to learn about science and math and history and language.

    Such pandering, meaningless legislation implies both institutions are in collapse. And it seems the government is in dire straits as well.

  2. I knew this topic would come back up, so last night I posted a long-planned piece, Separation of Church & State, as an historical resource.