Before becoming a journalist, Betty Winston Baye spent 20 years working for national denominations and faith-based civil rights and community organizations. She is “unabashedly and unashamedly Christian.”
But she does not believe the Bible should be taught in taxpayer-funded schools.
Baye rightfully argues that the United States is not a theocracy and that to claim that God has been taken out of the schools runs counter to a very basic Christian premise that God is never absent. He’s everywhere.
A bill is moving through the Kentucky Senate that would require the state Board of Education to establish guidelines for an elective course in Bible literacy. The course “shall follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions and perspective of students in the school. A course under this section shall not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”
But the Bible is not religiously neutral. Moreover, here in Kentucky, religious neutrality and tolerance for diverse religious views are often viewed as controversial, weak-minded, “liberal,” even un-American. . . . Young people are not only highly susceptible to being proselytized, but may lack the tools to react to a teacher who teaches the Bible from a perspective that hardly can be considered neutral.
There were good reasons why America's founders, after fleeing religious persecution, pointedly sought a separation between church and state. Mixing the two, history shows, is a potion for disaster and conflict.
Brian Willis, who focused his doctorial studies on church and society, is vice president for academic affairs at Simmons College in Kentucky. If the purpose of the bill, he said, “is to educate students from a social science perspective on biblical texts, then the five major world religions' sacred writings (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) should be incorporated into the curriculum.”
Wells' broader view, however, is that “religious communities and private faith-based institutions are better equipped to teach courses like these without violating religious freedom rights.”
On a more practical level Baye suggests that “when so many Kentucky public schools are performing poorly in the basics and are being beaten down by the state's budget crisis, it doesn't make sense to spend time and money developing guidelines for “elective” Bible literacy courses. These are readily available in private institutions — churches, mosques, temples and schools of theology — that have the history, the experts, the expertise and the desire to teach a knowledge-thirsty public.”
Betty Winston Baye is a Louisville Courier-Journal editorial writer and columnist.