Most Bible courses in Texas schools not academic, study finds

Thursday, September 14, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas — The majority of Bible courses being offered as electives at Texas high schools are devotional and sectarian in their approach and do not teach about the Bible in a historical or literary context as required under state law a new study has found.

The San Antonio Express-News reported in a story on its Web site on Sept. 12 that the yearlong study by the Texas Freedom Network found that in most instances the courses fail to meet minimal academic standards for teacher qualifications, curriculum and academic rigor.

Most of the courses promote one faith perspective over all others and push an ideological agenda that is hostile to religious freedom, science and public education, according to the 76-page report, “Reading, Writing and Religion,” released yesterday.

The Texas Freedom Network surveyed the more than 1,000 school districts in the state to learn which offered Bible electives. Mark Chancey, a biblical studies professor at Southern Methodist University, then analyzed the curricula, going back five years, from 25 districts, about 3% of the total, that offered them as electives in 2005-2006.

The report was a joint effort by Chancey and the Education Fund of the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal watchdog group.

The study found the vast majority of the electives to be explicitly devotional, with an almost exclusively Christian, usually Protestant, perspective. It also found most of the Bible courses were taught by teachers with no academic training in biblical, religious or theological studies and who were not very familiar with the issues of separation of church and state.

“We stand with parents who believe that the Bible is a great way to teach students about the importance of religion in history and literature. But we think pressure groups have hijacked a good idea and the end result is that these courses can betray families' faith in our public schools by teaching courses with a narrow religious perspective above all others,” said TFN President Kathy Miller.

The report said San Antonio's North East Independent School District and the independent school districts of Leander and Whiteface were exceptions to the norm and presented material in a more neutral manner.

“This report has national implications because the materials used in the unconstitutional Texas courses are also used in school districts in many other states,” said Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center senior scholar. “As the study points out, if school districts would follow the legal and educational guidance found in The Bible in Public Schools, a consensus statement published by the First Amendment Center, they could create Bible electives that pass constitutional muster.”

Mike Adkins, spokesman for the Ector Independent School District, said the district was comfortable with its curriculum. The district, which includes Odessa, added a Bible elective this year based on the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said the agency didn't know which districts offered Bible electives and did not monitor content. She said Texas schools could offer Bible courses only as electives and must avoid proselytizing.

The study included districts such as Big Spring, which began offering a Bible course in 1932, and Brazosport, which began its course in 1999.

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