ACLU asks Chesterfield to steer clear of Bible course
Edited by Chris Graham
The ACLU of Virginia has asked the Textbook Review Committee of Chesterfield County Public Schools to drop from consideration a controversial Bible study course that may unconstitutionally promote religious beliefs in public schools.
The course, entitled The Bible in History and Literature and produced by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, was the target of an ACLU lawsuit in Texas in 2007 that resulted in a local school board agreeing not to use it. In 2008, the Craig County School Board proposed using the same course, but pulled it after the ACLU of Virginia objected. An earlier version of the course was struck down as unconstitutional by a Florida federal court in 1998.
“The ACLU does not oppose teaching about religion in public schools,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “However, we are concerned that this course is not an impartial study of the Bible, but an attempt to advocate for one set of religious beliefs to the exclusion of others.
“It is hard enough to teach something as personal and deeply felt as religion in public schools without crossing the line dividing church and state,” Willis said. “That is made doubly difficult when the curriculum itself encourages stepping over the line.
“The most important way we protect religious liberty is by keeping the powerful hand of government out of religion,” said Willis. “Public schools must neither interfere with the right of students to follow their religions beliefs nor promote particular religious beliefs.”
In court papers filed in the Texas case, the plaintiffs, who were parents of students, argued that The Bible in History and Literatureis not a serious scholarly attempt to teach the Bible, but promotes a particular interpretation of the Bible that is not even shared by most Christians in the world.