New Articles and Editorials about Texas State Board of Education
Adoption of Bible Curriculum Standards

Compiled by Texas Citizens for Science
2008 July 25

Texas attorney general asked to rule on Bible class offerings in schools

Tuesday, March 11, 2008
From Staff Reports
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/DN-bibleclasses_11tex.ART.State.Edition1.460083d.html

AUSTIN – State Education Commissioner Robert Scott has asked the attorney general to determine whether school districts must offer elective Bible classes under a law approved by the Legislature last year.

Citing conflicting language in the law, Mr. Scott said school districts and charter schools need to know whether they are required to offer the Bible course in high school and how they are affected by a provision that indicates the course should be available on a campus when at least 15 students request it.

While the legislation originally required all districts to offer Bible classes, it was amended with language that Mr. Scott said "appears to have changed it from mandatory to permissive."

But another section of the law, he noted, "could be read as requiring a district to offer the course (or courses) if 15 students make that request."

Mr. Scott said the law also directed the Texas Education Agency to develop training materials for teachers who teach the Bible classes, using funds appropriated by the Legislature. But no money was appropriated.

"Due to lack of funding ... the agency is not developing that training," he said, adding that the Legislature's decision to not pay for the training may be viewed as an indication of its intentions about the Bible course law.

Supporters of the law said they were motivated by the desire to give students the historical and literary context of the Bible.

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Lawmakers seek legal answer about school Bible class

By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
March 16, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/religion/5624628.html

AUSTIN — Fiercely debated legislation last year to put a Bible course in public schools has landed in the hands of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion on what it means.

And that's hardly a surprise, since state lawmakers couldn't agree on what the wording meant last May when they passed HB 1287, the so-called "Bible bill."

Just about everyone agrees a Bible course cannot be used to endorse, promote or disparage any faith and that the purpose of the class is to help students understand the Bible as literature.

But Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott has called on Abbott to referee one of the bill's most contentious points: Are public high schools required to offer a Bible course if at least 15 students request it?

The bill's author, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who carried the legislation in the Senate, emphatically contend it was intended to obligate school districts to offer the course in high schools if the 15-student threshold is met.

"If a certain number of students request it, yes, they must do it. I don't think if a group gets together and says, 'Yes, we want to do this,' the school system should have to say, 'No, you can't,' " Estes said.

Chisum also referred to a separate State Board of Education rule requiring school districts to offer courses if requested by 10 students.

But Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, an acknowledged expert on public education issues, said the mandatory provisions of the bill were removed before it passed.

"It's totally permissive," Hochberg said. "There is no course requirement. Under the rules of legislative construction, I don't know any other way to read it."

The bill says school districts "may" offer the course to high school students. But the word "shall" shows up in another section. And another part of the bill stipulates that a school district "is not required to offer the course at that campus for that semester" if fewer than 15 students enroll.

"Must all school districts and charter schools offer the course ... during any school year in which 15 students at a campus request the course?" the education commissioner asked in his letter to the attorney general.

House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, circulated a memo last May clarifying several amendments to the bill, including one respecting local control "by giving school boards the right to decide" whether to offer the Bible course.

"What about 'local control' is confusing here?" said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which fought to keep the bill from being mandatory. "Chairman Eissler's memo makes it clear that the committee's amended bill left the decision to local schools to make.

"With so many priorities competing for education dollars, that would seem to make a lot of sense to most taxpayers," she continued.

The purpose of the elective Bible course, as expressed in the bill, is to expose students to biblical content and characters as key to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, oratory and public policy.

"Whether a person is religious or not, we can all benefit from being literate in the Bible, the best-selling book of all time," Estes said.

The bill is structured to take effect for the 2009-10 school year. "We're waiting to see what the attorney general says – anxiously waiting," Scott said. A ruling could take six months.

Another uncertainty hovering over the Bible bill is the absence of funding for the required teacher training, estimated by the Texas Education Agency to cost $250,000 the first year, $500,000 the second year and $50,000 annually after that.

"Due to that lack of funding ... the agency is not developing that training," Scott said in his letter to Abbott.

Proper training for a Bible course taught in public schools is imperative, Hochberg said.

"Teaching biblical history separately from preaching the Bible requires thought and planning and knowledge, particularly in an environment where you are attempting to teach to people with very different views on religion," Hochberg said.

The notion that lawmakers did not fund the training requirement baffles Chisum, who is not only the bill's author but also chairs the House Appropriations Committee that writes the state budget.

"We may not have had it specifically named in there for that specific (purpose) because there's no way we'd know how many people were going to need training," Chisum said.

Regardless of how the attorney general responds, Chisum and Estes speculate that lawmakers will bring up the Bible bill again next year.

"It could've been better, and I think we'll work on it next session to kind of clean it up," Estes said.

gscharrer@express-news.net

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Bible course sparks wrangle

At issue is the need for state standards for the curriculum


By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
March 28, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/moms/5658007.html
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5658007.html

AUSTIN — More disagreement surfaced Friday over the public school Bible course Texas lawmakers approved last year.

The latest issue hinges on whether the state must adopt specific curriculum standards for the course, an elective that's supposed to start in the 2009-10 school year.

Some lawmakers say the new course requires those standards. Some State Board of Education members say existing curriculum standards for Bible courses already taught in nearly 30 Texas school districts are clear enough.

"I believe that every school board should be able to pick whichever Bible curriculum they want. We already have TEKS (curriculum standards) written for the Bible curriculum," said State Board of Education member Terri Leo of Spring. "It's not like we haven't covered that subject. But they're broad enough to allow local districts to choose whichever one they want. And that's where that battle should be fought."

But Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, architect of several key amendments to the Bible bill, disagreed.

"We clearly won't be in compliance with the law that was passed," Hochberg said after the board tentatively voted not to create the standards. Board members Lawrence Allen Jr. of Houston and Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi dissented.

'Worldwide literature'

Without new standards, school districts won't have specific teacher training materials, as the law requires, or a basis for textbook selection, he said, adding, "I can't believe that the State Board of Education would put more details into developing a high school aerobics course than they put into the most important worldwide literature course."

In a letter to board members, Hochberg said: "Unequivocally, the proposed rule does not meet the intent of the legislation."

Board members hinted that Attorney General Greg Abbott eventually would have to provide guidance. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott already has asked Abbott to determine whether public high schools must offer a Bible course if 15 or more students request it.

The purpose of the course is to expose students to biblical content, characters and stories essential to understanding contemporary society and culture.

"It's not to present any type of biblical philosophy whatsoever," said board member Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond.

Existing standards

She agreed with Leo that current curriculum social studies and English language arts standards covering existing Bible courses already offered in some school districts are sufficient.

The board can develop more specific guidelines later if the attorney general requires them, she said.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said the board "made a serious mistake" because the absence of specific standards violates the law, leaves school districts vulnerable to lawsuits and fails to protect the religious freedom of students.

'It's a shame'

But Jonathan Saenz, legislative affairs director of the Free Market Foundation, said, "It's a shame that there's people out there like her group that really wants to delay the process."

Developing new standards would simply "create more bureaucracy and more burdens on local school districts," Saenz said.

"School districts have been teaching these courses for years, and they have been using the TEKS (standards) that are currently in place," he said.

gscharrer@express-news.net

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Bill would add school Bible courses

Lawmaker says text is relevant to a moral society


By GARY SCHARRER
San Antonio Express-News
April 4, 2007
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/special/07/legislature/4686380.html

AUSTIN — A key state lawmaker wants to acquaint Texas high school students with the Bible.

After all, reasons House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, how can students study Shakespeare's writings, with their 1,300 references to Scripture, without a basic understanding of the Bible?

All public school districts would be required to offer an elective course in the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments under legislation that Chisum pitched Tuesday night to the House Public Education Committee.

"There's a lot of stuff in the Bible that finds its way into our dictionaries, into our art, into all of our literature and into our laws," the Pampa Republican said before the hearing.

He emphasized the Founding Fathers drew a link between morality and laws.

"If we don't have a moral people, our laws are not sufficient to govern an immoral body of people. It is important to every one of us that we have that moral society," he said.

Education committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said he would postpone a vote on Chisum's legislation because Jewish groups observing Passover were unable to testify. Eissler plans to take more testimony next week.

Currently, 25 of the state's 1,039 public school districts offer a course about the Bible. Chisum said he's confident lawmakers will approve his legislation requiring districts to make a Bible course available if at least 15 students sign up for it.

"In order to understand our society, you would need to understand the Bible," said Chisum, a practicing Baptist.

Some clergy members embraced the idea of expanding public school curriculum "about the Bible" but urged stronger protections to keep public schools from teaching religious Scripture.

Improperly trained teachers and a faulty curriculum would invite costly lawsuits for school districts, said John Ferguson, a Baptist minister and constitutional scholar at Howard Payne University in Brownwood.

"What I have seen in every school district is that it is incredibly difficult to adequately prepare your faculty and your students and to provide them the tools they need to do this the right way and to avoid the lawsuits," Ferguson said.

Public schools can barely afford new textbooks for their students, he said. "Mandating every school district without any sort of training materials, without any funding, that's verging on cruel," he said. "I can guarantee that without the training and without the support (teachers) need, school districts across Texas will be riddled with lawsuits."

Mark Chancey, an assistant professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, conducted a study last year of the 25 Texas school districts that offered courses on the Bible. Only three did it right, he said. The study was conducted for the Texas Freedom Network, a group of religious and community leaders that bills itself as a nonpartisan counterweight to social conservatives.

One district's course included a PowerPoint presentation, "God's Roadway For Your Life," with slides proclaiming "Jesus Christ is the one and only way," Chancey said. "So we know that sometimes explicit proselytizing does happen."

Chisum emphasized that his legislation would forbid teachers from promoting religion. The bill says the course must be taught in an objective and nondevotional manner and cannot try "to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the Judeo-Christian biblical materials."

But the SMU professor said teachers without a biblical studies background will likely fall back on their own religious experiences despite their best intentions to stay objective.

Ferguson, the Baptist minister, said: "Religion is one of those things that people are willing to die for. Texas should be careful to tread where angels fear to go."

Legislators must give teachers and schools proper guidance and resources to teach Bible classes in a way that respects the faiths of all families, said Kathy Miller, the Texas Freedom Network's president.

gscharrer@express-news.net

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Bible bill: "It doesn't have a prayer"

Posted by Gary Scharrer
April 12, 2007
http://blogs.chron.com/texaspolitics/archives/2007/04/_bible_bill_it.html

The so-called Bible bill will likely pass out of the House Public Education Committee Tuesday, giving supporters more time to massage the bill to mollify skeptics.

But it's unlikely that any changes will convince the Anti-Defamation League.
House Bill 1287 by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, would require public schools to offer an elective course in the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments.

The Anti-Defamation League is concerned the bill authorizes Bible courses which cross the constitutional line of permissible teaching about the Bible for its historical, cultural or literary value, and that it would encourage acceptance of the Bible as a religious document.

Anti-Defamation League board member and former state legislator Paul Colbert says the organization is concerned about mandating the Old and New Testaments as primary texts as well as the lack of a requirement that faculty for these courses receive training on issues regarding proselytizing and respect of other faiths and denominations.

Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said testimony has made some good points in terms of teacher training and materials.

Asked about the prospects of the bill passing out of his committee tonight, Eissler, ever the quipster, said: "It doesn't have a prayer."

If not tonight, the committee almost certainly will approve the bill early next week for full floor debate.

And one more observation from the chairman: "The Bible is the only book that has the letter of the law and the spirit of the law."

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AG approves curriculum for Bible courses

By APRIL CASTRO
Associated Press Writer
July 9, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/5879912.html

AUSTIN — Elective high school Bible courses would be constitutional if taught using the non-specific guidelines adopted by the State Board of Education, Attorney General Greg Abbott said Wednesday.

But, specific course curriculum cannot be cleared because none have been proposed or reviewed, Abbott's office cautioned in a letter to board chairman Don McLeroy.

The Legislature passed a law last year allowing for Bible courses to be offered as an elective starting in the 2009-2010 school year and directed the board to adopt curriculum standards that do not run afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state.

"By this letter we conclude that courses taught in accordance with applicable Texas law and the SBOE's proposed (curriculum) ... appear to be facially valid under the First Amendment of the United State's Constitution," wrote Andrew Weber, deputy attorney general for legal counsel.

The education board decided in March to allow standard English and social studies guidelines to be applied to elective Bible courses rather than drafting curriculum standards specific to the teaching of the religious doctrine.

Despite concerns that the guidelines are too broad, the board agreed that they would suffice until they received further clarification from Abbott. The board is expected to revisit the curriculum standards. Their next scheduled meeting is next week.

Critics have voiced concern that religious opinions could be taught to high school students in the classes without specific restrictions.

"It is critically important that the state board provide clear, specific curriculum standards that guide local school districts on how to create worthy courses that also protect the religious freedom of students," said Kathy Miller, president of the religious watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. "The state board approves specific standards for courses like aerobics and food technology. Surely a study of the Bible's influence in history and literature and protecting religious freedom deserve the same respect."

Among the questions Abbott's office has yet to answer is whether public high schools must offer a Bible course if requested by at least 15 students, a threshold mentioned in the bill. But the bill was unclear if the class would then be mandatory or optional for high schools to offer.

Lawmakers adopted the measure with an assurance the class would only focus on the history and literature of the Bible, and not proselytize for or disparage any faith. It also required the attorney general to review the curriculum.

The bill said the elective Bible course would expose students to biblical content and characters as key to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, oratory and public policy.

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AG: No guarantee that Bible classes will be constitutional

By TERRENCE STUTZ
tstutz@dallasnews.com
The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/071008dntexbiblecourses.3c346f9.html

AUSTIN – Attorney General Greg Abbott said Wednesday that his office can't guarantee that elective Bible courses taught in Texas high schools will be constitutional even though state standards for those classes "appear" to be in compliance with the First Amendment.

In a letter to State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, the attorney general said that without a review of the specific courses being taught under a 2007 state law, he cannot conclude whether those classes will comply with the U.S. Constitution.

"We cannot ensure that the implementation of any particular curricula and courses in Texas schools are, or will be, constitutional," the letter said.

The attorney general did say, however, that the Bible study law and the curriculum for the course approved by the education board complied with the First Amendment's requirement of religious neutrality for such classes.

Mr. McLeroy said he was pleased with the opinion because it affirmed the board's decision to approve broad guidelines for the classes.

"We adopted general [curriculum standards] to allow school districts flexibility in designing these courses," he said, adding, "I think this is the best way to go."

But the president of the Texas Freedom Network said Wednesday that the letter from the attorney general means the board of education should develop new, more specific standards for the Bible courses to ensure that school districts don't violate the Constitution.

"The board has a responsibility to provide local districts the clear guidance they need to stay out of court," said Kathy Miller of the group.

Ms. Miller said that the current standards for the course are so vague and general that many schools might unknowingly create unconstitutional Bible classes that either promote the religious views of teachers or disparage the religious beliefs of some students.

The Free Market Foundation, on the other hand, maintained that the attorney general's letter means the board of education can move ahead on the Bible course curriculum.

"This is a victory for students and academic choice," said Kelly Shackelford, president of the socially conservative group.

The law authorizing Bible courses required the attorney general to review the standards for the elective classes to make sure they complied with religious freedom protections of the First Amendment.

The attorney general has yet to issue an opinion on whether the law requires all school districts to offer the class in high school.

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AG Approves Curriculum For Bible Courses

Associated Press
Jul 9, 2008
http://cbs11tv.com/local/bible.course.curriculum.2.767543.html

AUSTIN (AP) - Elective high school Bible courses would be constitutional if taught using the non-specific guidelines adopted by the State Board of Education, Attorney General Greg Abbott said Wednesday.

But, specific course curriculum cannot be cleared because none have been proposed or reviewed, Abbott's office cautioned in a letter to board chairman Don McLeroy.

The Legislature passed a law last year allowing for Bible courses to be offered as an elective starting in the 2009-2010 school year and directed the board to adopt curriculum standards that do not run afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state.

"By this letter we conclude that courses taught in accordance with applicable Texas law and the SBOE's proposed (curriculum) ... appear to be facially valid under the First Amendment of the United State's Constitution," wrote Andrew Weber, deputy attorney general for legal counsel.

The education board decided in March to allow standard English and social studies guidelines to be applied to elective Bible courses rather than drafting curriculum standards specific to the teaching of the religious doctrine.

Despite concerns that the guidelines are too broad, the board agreed that they would suffice until they received further clarification from Abbott. The board is expected to revisit the curriculum standards. Their next scheduled meeting is next week.

Critics have voiced concern that religious opinions could be taught to high school students in the classes without specific restrictions.

"It is critically important that the state board provide clear, specific curriculum standards that guide local school districts on how to create worthy courses that also protect the religious freedom of students," said Kathy Miller, president of the religious watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. "The state board approves specific standards for courses like aerobics and food technology. Surely a study of the Bible's influence in history and literature and protecting religious freedom deserve the same respect."

Among the questions Abbott's office has yet to answer is whether public high schools must offer a Bible course if requested by at least 15 students, a threshold mentioned in the bill. But the bill was unclear if the class would then be mandatory or optional for high schools to offer.

Lawmakers adopted the measure with an assurance the class would only focus on the history and literature of the Bible, and not proselytize for or disparage any faith. It also required the attorney general to review the curriculum.

The bill said the elective Bible course would expose students to biblical content and characters as key to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, oratory and public policy.

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AG: School Bible course passes constitutional muster

Attorney general says, however, that he won't OK any specific curriculum


By GARY SCHARRER
San Antonio Express-News
July 10, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/moms/5880219.html

Attorney general rules Bible course in schools constitutional

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 07/09/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA.071008.BibleCourse..3830c58.html

AUSTIN — A proposed Bible course for public schools would not violate the First Amendment, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Wednesday, although he would not approve any specific curriculum.

A letter from Abbott's office to the State Board of Education triggered conflicting interpretations. On a preliminary vote in March, the board adopted general curriculum standards for the new "Bible course," prompting critics to argue it violated state law requiring specific standards.

The attorney general's letter makes it clear that the board must develop new standards for the Bible course, said Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller.

"It is critically important that the state board provide clear, specific curriculum standards that guide local school districts on how to create worthy courses that also protect the religious freedom of students," Miller said.

"The state board approves specific standards for courses like aerobics and food technology," she said. "Surely a study of the Bible's influence in history and literature and protecting religious freedom deserve the same respect."

Board unlikely to change

But board Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said he does not expect the board to change its position when it meets next week.

"I think the current standards are going to work just fine," Bradley said. "Local school districts kind of like the way it is now.

"They have flexibility," he said. "It's like sex ed. ... You leave it up to local communities. You give them some guidelines. You are not nearly as prescriptive as some would like you to be."

In the letter, Abbott's deputy attorney general Andrew Weber said, "We believe that a court would find the proposed (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) facially constitutional.

"Because we have not reviewed curricula and courses proposed pursuant to the TEKS and section (of the law), we cannot conclude whether courses offered under that section will be constitutional," Weber wrote.

Earlier this year, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, also told State Board of Education members that their proposed rules would not meet the intent of the legislation. Hochberg authored several key amendments for the Bible bill.

The pending standards clearly would violate the law, he said.

Board members are not likely to approve more specific standards for the Bible course because the attorney general's letter "just reinforces that the framework is acceptable," said Bradley.

The course, which would be voluntary for high school students, is scheduled to take effect in the 2009-10 school year.

gscharrer@express-news.net

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Bible class guidelines constitutional, AG's office says

State Board of Education to discuss how to develop proposed new courses next week.


By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, July 10, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/07/10/0710bible.html

The Texas attorney general's office said Wednesday that the guidelines for new elective Bible courses meet constitutional muster, but it also warned that districts need to be cautious that their classes don't violate the First Amendment.

An advisory letter written by Andrew Weber, deputy attorney general for legal counsel for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office, and sent to the Statesman by various advocacy groups Wednesday, said the curriculum requirements adopted by the State Board of Education for courses on the Bible do not appear to conflict with the U.S. Constitution. The letter also said it is unclear whether the courses themselves would be constitutional once developed.

The requirements, approved by the state board in March, were submitted to the attorney general's office for constitutional review as required under a state law passed in 2007.

The law gives school districts permission to offer high school courses on the Old and New Testaments and their impact on culture and society. The requirements also expressly prohibit districts from violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Supporters of the effort to create such courses applauded what they said was a green light for the board to move toward final adoption.

"As we stated and the Attorney General has now confirmed, the current (standards) are sufficient and we are ready to move forward on the new Bible course laws," Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation, a group that worked to get the standards approved, said in a statement.

Critics of the standards, including officials from the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group, said the ruling confirms that the requirements for the courses are too vague and that the state is inviting lawsuits challenging the courses once they are adopted.

"It is critically important that the state board provide clear, specific curriculum standards that guide local school districts on how to create worthy courses that also protect the religious freedom of students," Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said in an e-mailed statement. "The state board approves specific standards for courses like aerobics and food technology. Surely a study of the Bible's influence in history and literature and protecting religious freedom deserve the same respect."

The board will take up the issue at meetings next week; courses could start in fall 2009.

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

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Lawmaker asks board to reverse Texas Bible course

07/18/2008
Associated Press
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/APStories/stories/D9205E4G1.html

An impending state Board of Education vote could determine whether specific standards are established for a proposed elective high school Bible course, rather than the non-specific guidelines already adopted.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, told a state Board of Education committee on Thursday that it should reverse itself and set up specific standards for the course. In March the board decided to allow standard English and social studies guidelines to be applied to elective Bible courses, rather than drafting curriculum standards specific to the teaching of religious doctrine.

The board on Friday was expected to take a final vote on the issue.

"I feel strongly about this because more knowledge when it comes to religious tradition and laws about religious expression is better than less. I sincerely believe that if we can do work here that removes some of the impetus to run to the courthouse, then let's do it," said Hochberg, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported in their online editions Friday.

But Terri Leo, R-Spring, chair of the board's Instruction Committee, noted that the Bible course would be an elective class.

"We are not testing anybody at the end of the day on this," she said.

Hochberg said specific standards were still needed and noted the state requires specific Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards for such electives as aerobic training, dance and ROTC, yet they are not subject to state testing.

The Legislature passed a law last year allowing for Bible courses to be offered as an elective starting in the 2009-2010 school year and directed the board to adopt curriculum standards that do not run afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Elective high school Bible courses would be constitutional if taught using the non-specific guidelines adopted by the state Board of Education, Attorney General Greg Abbott said earlier this month. But, specific course curriculum cannot be cleared because none have been proposed or reviewed, Abbott's office cautioned earlier in a letter to board chairman Don McLeroy.

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Texas OKs standards for elective Bible classes

By JIM VERTUNO
Associated Press Writer
July 18, 2008
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hrln0HWV2RIwrJQHUJ4PwXC4hLoAD920HDNOC

Houston Chronicle
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/5895781.html

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas State Board of Education gave final approval Friday to establishing Bible classes in public high schools, rejecting calls to draw specific teaching guidelines and warnings that it could lead to constitutional problems in the classroom.

The Legislature passed a law in 2007 allowing Bible courses to be offered as an elective. They are supposed to focus on the history and literature of the Bible without preaching or disparaging any faith.

State officials are still waiting for an attorney general's ruling on whether the classes must be offered to students or left to school districts to decide.

Critics say the rule adopted 10-5 by the board doesn't provide specific enough guidelines to help teachers and school districts know how to do that and avoid a First Amendment clash over freedom of religion.

"This is what happens when our elected officials put politics and personal agendas ahead of the interests of our school children and their families," said Ryan Valentine, deputy director Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the influence of religion in public policy.

Supporters say schools will have all the constitutional guidance they need. The purpose of the classes is to teach biblical content and its context in modern society, including culture, art and public policy.

The adopted rule follows broad guidelines used for English and social studies classes that say students must be able to use critical thinking skills to evaluate information and communicate what they've learned in written, oral or visual forms.

The rule specifically says courses should follow applicable law and "all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of students in their school district."

Courses shall not "endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective," the rule says.

"I think that's pretty specific," said Jonathan Saenz of the conservative Free Market Foundation. "The constitutional safeguards are there."

But critics maintain they're not enough.

Mark Chancey, associate professor in religious studies at Southern Methodist University, has studied Bible classes already offered in about 25 districts for the Texas Freedom Network.

The study found most of the courses were explicitly devotional with almost exclusively Christian, usually Protestant, perspectives.

It also found that most were taught by teachers with no academic training in biblical, religious or theological studies and who were not familiar with the issues of separation of church and state.

"Some classes promote creation science. Some classes denigrate Judaism. Some classes explicitly encourage students to convert to Christianity or to adopt Christian devotional practices," Chancey said. "This is all well documented, and the board knows it."

State Attorney General Greg Abbott's office weighed in on the general guidelines earlier this month, saying they pass constitutional muster. Abbott's office wouldn't guarantee, however, that a specific course would be constitutional because none have yet been proposed or reviewed.

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Texas State Board of Education approves Bible course for high schools

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Friday, July 18, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/religion/stories/071908dntexbibleclass.6a4f4f07.html

AUSTIN – The State Board of Education on Friday gave final approval to a rule establishing an elective Bible course for high schools, but the panel rejected the arguments of some members and key lawmakers – and left it up to local school districts to design the classes.

Board members approved the new class to be offered in high schools beginning this fall although state officials are still awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state law authorizing the course requires all school districts to make it available to students.

Among those who urged the board to issue specific guidelines for the class was Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who helped write the 2007 law. Mr. Hochberg warned that without specific guidance from the state, some schools would run afoul of the First Amendment requirement of religious neutrality for such classes.

"Let’s go forward and do this right and not let the lawyers tell us what we have to do," Mr. Hochberg asked the board, citing the possibility of lawsuits if all school districts design their own courses.

"My interest is keeping the focus on teaching kids and spending less money on lawsuits."

His position was backed by other members of the House Public Education Committee, which drafted the law.

But a majority of board members, including all seven aligned with social conservatives, said they preferred to adopt a general rule now and not get into the specifics of what will be taught in the classes.

"It’s better for us to go ahead and do something now," said board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond. "We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don’t want to stifle what they (school districts) are doing in classrooms."

The rule was adopted on a 10-5 vote, which allows the course to be put in place in high schools for the 2008-09 school year. If there had been less than a two-thirds vote, the course would have been delayed until the fall of 2009.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has told the board that while the state standards for the Bible class appear to be in compliance with the First Amendment, his office can’t guarantee that the courses taught in high schools will be constitutional because they haven’t been reviewed.

Critics contend that the board standards for the course are so vague and general that many schools might unknowingly create unconstitutional Bible classes that either promote the religious views of teachers or disparage the religious beliefs of some students.

Earlier this year, the Ector County school board agreed to quit using a Bible course curriculum at two high schools in Odessa that the American Civil Liberties Union said promoted Protestant religious beliefs not shared by Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and many Protestants.

==========

Committee to vote on Bible class content

Board of Education will decide whether to accept proposed controversial curriculum


By: Teresa Mioli
Daily Texan
Posted: 7/18/08
http://media.www.dailytexanonline.com/media/storage/paper410/news/2008/07/18/TopStories/Committee.To.Vote.On.Bible.Class.Content-3392320.shtml

The Texas State Board of Education will vote today on the final adoption of curriculum requirements for high school elective courses that teach Bible scriptures' impact on the history and literature of Western civilization.

The board's Committee on Instruction passed the curriculum to the full board in a 3-to-1 vote Thursday.

Today's vote will fuel controversy that started between religious-freedom advocacy groups in June 2007 when the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing school districts to teach the course. State Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Houston Democrat who serves on the Public Education Committee, said the bill was an attempt to provide districts with legal protection if they choose to offer the course.

As outlined in the board's agenda, the voluntary course will discuss biblical content, history and literary style.

Three percent of state school districts offered Bible courses during the 2005-2006 school year, according to a 2006 report from the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal watchdog organization.

The committee drafted the guidelines, called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, that outline course requirements for the elective and in the spring submitted them to Attorney General Greg Abbott for approval. Abbott said on July 9 the course would not violate the First Amendment.

The guidelines require that the course maintains religious neutrality and does not endorse or disfavor any religion.

Educational, political and legal figures have criticized the guidelines as too general and devoid of content and testified before the committee on Thursday to develop more specific course requirements.

Hochberg said he was under the impression that the board would carry out the regular and obligatory process of creating specific guidelines as it does with other courses.

"I'm sure you're familiar that the TEKS that you picked up and placed essentially under a header, [which] said this is a course about biblical literature ... are TEKS that could just as easily be used for a course about anything in social studies," Hochberg said. "You could have it as a course on the history of 'American Idol'; you could have it as a course on the history of the medieval times."

Terri Leo, who chairs the committee, said the committee did not need to create more specific standards, such as those for a mandatory course, since the Bible courses will be taught as electives. Leo and committee member Cynthia Nolan Dunbar said creating more specific standards would put the board on a "slippery slope."

Some committee members implied that if they specify too many course guidelines, it would open the door to lawsuits.

Jonathan Saenz, spokesman for the Free Market Foundation, a conservative nonprofit organization, said the guidelines outlined by the board are sufficient.

"It's important to remember that there's no way to guarantee that anything anyone does in a school will be constitutional," Saenz said. "The other side is almost demanding some assurance and guarantee that nothing will happen that will be unconstitutional, and that's impossible."

Spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network Ryan Valentine said students will suffer if the board passes the curriculum today.

"If they proceed along this path, as we expect them to do, then districts that choose to offer a Bible course are going to be left with the task of coming up with curriculum entirely on their own with no guidance from the state," Valentine said. "And we know that the courses around the state that are already being offered and [whose schools] have had to come up with the curriculum on their own have all sorts of problems."

Valentine said the network discovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that Jewish students who took the courses were being denigrated and that courses were being taught from a biased Protestant and fundamentalist Christian perspective.

"As school districts choose to create these courses and they have no direction from the State Board of Education on how best to do that, we're gonna see more of the same [problems]," Valentine said. "There's no reason to think we wouldn't."

=========

Bible Electives Pass State Board

Free Market Foundation
The Forney Post
July 18, 2008
http://forneypost.net/pressreleases/2008/07/18/bible.html

In response to the Texas State Board of Education’s (10-5) vote today to approve curriculum standards and TEKS (requirements) for Bible electives offered in Texas high schools, Free Market Foundation’s Director of Legislative Affairs, Jonathan Saenz states:

"Elective Bible courses now have the final green light from the Texas State Board of Education and Texas has now gained an academic advantage."

Jonathan Saenz helped pass Rep. Warren Chisum’s bill (H.B. 1287) requiring school districts to offer Bible electives, and yesterday testified before the Texas State Board of Education in favor of the proposed curriculum standards and TEKS, just now approved by the Texas State Board of Education. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott affirmed the constitutionality of these standards and proposed TEKS in a letter to the SBOE last week.

"There was some token opposition from enemies of academic freedom, but at the end of the day, the Texas State Board of Education followed the Attorney General's opinion and made the right decision," said Saenz.

============

Schools in Texas get OK for elective Bible course

Some panelists argue over lack of state standards to guide teachers


By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
July 18, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/religion/5896252.html

AUSTIN — Local school districts got a green light Friday to offer high school students an elective Bible course without the specific state standards that some contend are necessary to guide well-intentioned teachers from straying into religious proselytizing.

State Board of Education members argued about whether they were obligated to establish specific state standards for the new course approved by state lawmakers last year or allow the 1,039 independent school districts to set up their own course, using existing general guidelines from English and social studies classes.

The argument focused on legislative intent. In the end, the board's coalition of social conservatives prevailed, 10-5. Some religious experts immediately expressed dismay.

Call for resources

"I predict we're headed for a constitutional train wreck," said Mark Chancey, chairman of the religious studies department at Southern Methodist University. "The people who suffer will be the educators and the students, and the people who will foot the bill will be us the taxpayers."

Public school Bible classes can be wonderfully enriching, he said, but teachers need resources and specific guidelines.

"Instead, the state board of education is sending them into a minefield without a map," Chancey said.

"It's deeply distressing," said John Ferguson, a Baptist minister, first amendment lawyer and professor at Howard Payne University in Brownwood.

State board members, who balked at establishing state standards because they might be too difficult to write, were wrong, Ferguson said. How can small school districts develop sound standards, he wondered?

"I'm not sure where these small districts with the six-man football teams in West Texas are going to come up with constitutional Bible scholars to help them craft these (standards)," Ferguson said.

'A slippery slope'

About 25 Texas public school districts already offer a Bible course and use existing standards for English and social studies, member Terri Leo, R-Spring, said. She feared that specific standards would put the state "on a slippery slope" toward litigation.

All of the attention focused on the controversy, together with scrutiny from such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and Texas Freedom Network will force Bible course teachers to do it properly because of "people like that breathing down (their) neck," said member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

Board members also got conflicting signals from lawmakers. Bible bill author Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, told them they did not need specific standards. But his bill was largely rewritten in a legislative committee, whose leaders emphasized specific Bible course standards were required.

Member Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, wanted to postpone the issue for 60 days to get more clarity. But Democrat Rick Agosto of San Antonio joined with the board's social conservatives to reject the postponement. The Bible course will be offered to students starting in the 2009-10 school year.

Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation said the bill language outlining the course purpose as one of teaching students "knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture" is very specific.

gscharrer@express-news.net

==========

Texas State Board of Education approves Bible course for high schools

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Saturday, July 19, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/religion/stories/071908dntexbibleclass.6a4f4f07.html

AUSTIN – Elective Bible courses in Texas high schools received the blessing of the State Board of Education on Friday, but local school officials will have to figure out how to design those classes so they don't violate religious-freedom protections.

Board members approved the new class, which will be in some high schools this fall, even though officials are awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state law authorizing the course requires all school districts to offer it.

The board adopted general guidelines for the course on a 10-5 vote, disregarding the advice of several members of the House Public Education Committee who urged approval of more specific requirements to head off the possibility of constitutional violations and lawsuits.

Among those who called for more specifics was Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who helped write the 2007 law.

Mr. Hochberg warned the board at their meeting that, without specific guidance from the state, some schools would run afoul of the First Amendment requirement of religious neutrality for such classes.

"My interest is keeping the focus on teaching kids and spending less money on lawsuits," he said.

But a majority of board members, including all seven aligned with social conservatives, said they preferred to adopt a general rule and not dictate how the classes will be taught.

"It's better for us to go ahead and do something now," said board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond. "We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don't want to stifle what they [school districts] are doing in classrooms."

Attorney General Greg Abbott has told the board that although the state standards for the Bible class appear to be in compliance with the First Amendment, his office can't guarantee that the courses taught in high schools will be constitutional because they haven't been reviewed.

Critics contend that the standards – based on old guidelines for independent studies in English and social studies – are so vague and general that many schools might unknowingly create unconstitutional Bible classes that either promote the religious views of teachers or disparage the religious beliefs of some students.

Earlier this year, the Ector County school board agreed to quit using a Bible course curriculum at two high schools in Odessa that the American Civil Liberties Union said promoted Protestant religious beliefs not shared by Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and many Protestants.

However, state board members supporting the Bible course rule adopted Friday said such lawsuits are rare and should not be a problem for most school districts.

"A school district has the right to choose their own Bible curriculum because they know their students best," said board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. She and other supporters also pointed out that the course will be voluntary.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford, who voted against the proposal, said teachers of the course would be given far less direction from the state than they receive in most other subjects.

"We need to do more work on this instead of jumping off into the abyss," she said.

The course is supposed to be geared to academic, nondevotional study of the Bible, and cover such things as the influence of the New Testament on law, literature, history and culture.

Dallas' two board members split on the issue, with Republican Geraldine Miller voting in favor of the rule and Democrat Mavis Knight voting against it.

The conservative Free Market Foundation applauded the decision, saying that Bible classes "now have the final green light from the State Board of Education, giving Texas an academic advantage."

But Mark Chancey, an associate professor and chairman of the department of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, said the board of education made a mistake.

"The good book deserves better than it got today, and so does the state of Texas," Dr. Chancey said. "These courses can be a wonderfully enriching educational experience, but they must be taught in a way that is academically, legally and ethically appropriate. Teachers need and want resources to help them do just that.

"Instead, the board of education is sending them into a minefield without a map."

WHY STUDY THE BIBLE?

- Surveys of high school English teachers and university English department heads indicate that most believe biblical knowledge confers a major educational advantage to students who have it.

- In one of the more popular study workbooks for the Advanced Placement literature and composition exam, more than 60 percent of the allusions recommended for test-takers are from the Bible. As an example: The works of Shakespeare have more than 1,300 biblical references, according to experts.

============

Bible course standards approved for Texas schools

Critics say vague standards leave districts in legal minefield


By Kate Alexander
kalexander@statesman.com
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, July 19, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/07/19/0719bible.html

The State Board of Education adopted Bible course curriculum standards Friday that critics say provide little guidance on how to teach the course without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

In a 10-5 vote, the board approved standards that largely mirror the required knowledge and skills now used for developing independent studies courses in social studies or English. They are not specific to teaching the high school elective course aimed at using the Bible to understand literature and culture, which the Legislature approved last year.

The reach of Friday's decision will not be known until the Texas attorney general issues an opinion, requested by Education Commissioner Robert Scott, on whether offering the course is mandatory or optional for school districts. If it's mandatory, more than 1,000 Texas districts will have to develop the course on their own without the specific guidelines the state typically offers.

Proponents said the board met the requirements the Legislature laid out in a 2007 law and will leave the responsibility to the local districts to design the course.

"We always talk about local control and how we want districts to have more say," said board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. "The district has the right to choose their Bible curriculum because they know their students best."

Board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, said the board was not required to write new standards for the Bible course, and the adopted standards provide sufficient guidance for districts without diving into the murky legal waters.

The board members also pointed to the Texas attorney general's determination last week that the standards were constitutional. The attorney general, however, could not say that courses developed under those standards would pass muster.

Opponents said that the state board was in a better position to navigate the legal minefield of teaching religious texts in the public schools.

"We need to help our school districts and not put them in the position where they could get sued," said Bob Craig, R-Lubbock. "The more specific the curriculum, the less likely there will be lawsuits."

Last year, Odessa's Ector County Independent School District in West Texas was sued over its Bible course curriculum, which opponents said promoted Protestant Christianity. That suit was settled this year when the district agreed to change the curriculum.

Southern Methodist University religious studies professor Mark Chancey said that his research has found legal problems with existing courses developed under essentially the same curriculum standards the state board adopted Friday.

Of the Bible courses offered in Texas public schools in the 2005-2006 school year, 22 out of 25 resembled courses that federal courts have ruled to be in violation of the First Amendment, Chancey said.

"I'm not a prophet, but I predict we're headed for a constitutional train wreck," Chancey said after the vote.

Since the course will not be offered anywhere until the 2009 school year, Austin school district spokesman Andy Welch said it is too early to say what the district will do.

In 2007, the Legislature approved the high school elective course aimed at using the Bible to understand literature, history, policy and more. The material must be presented in a neutral manner without proselytizing.

State Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said legislators were responding to communities' desire to teach biblical literature and history.

"It's very hard to do that teaching without preaching, and it is illegal to do that if it includes preaching," said Hochberg, a member of the House Public Education Committee.

So the law included structures to safeguard the districts, including First Amendment and religious freedom training for teachers, academically sound textbooks and curriculum standards. But the curriculum standards the board adopted do not specifically address how to teach the Bible and what the students should learn beyond broad language about the course's intent.

The standards call for students to focus on critical thinking skills, problem-solving and communication methods.

Critics, meanwhile, have cited the standards created for less thorny subjects, such as fruit, nut and vegetable production. In that course, board-approved standards include guidelines to discuss tools and equipment used in horticultural production, soil management, chemical application and pest control.

State Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said the only way to get the legislation passed was to ensure that the course would be handled with the same academic rigor as any other class. The Legislature wanted to make the course "court-proof," he said.

"The good news is we'll have Bible curriculum in our schools," said Eissler, chairman of the House Public Education Committee. "We passed it the way we thought was proper and the state board did not agree with that."

Essential knowledge and skills

Critics say the Bible course curriculum standards were not developed with the same level of specificity as those used for other courses.

The Bible course curriculum standards are based on the existing standards for independent study in social studies and English. It requires students to do the following in the course:

Apply critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired from a variety of sources including electronic technology.

Communicate in written, oral and visual forms.

Use problem-solving and decision-making skills, working independently and with others, in a variety of settings.

By comparison, the board-adopted standards for a high school social studies course in U.S. history call for students to do the following:

Understand traditional historical points of reference in U.S. history from 1877 to the present.

Understand the effects of reform and third-party movements on U.S. society.

Understand the impact of significant national and international decisions and conflicts from World War II and the Cold War to the present on the United States.

Understand significant economic developments between World War I and World War II.

Sources: Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, Texas Education Agency

kalexander@statesman.com; 445-3618

===========

Texas OKs Bible Course for High Schools

By Lawrence Jones
Christian Post Reporter
Sat, July 19, 2008
http://christianpost.com/article/20080719/texas-oks-bible-course-for-high-schools.htm

The Texas State Board of Education on Friday gave final approval to establishing a Bible elective for high schools but left specific class guidelines up to local school districts.

Board members voted 10-5 to adopt broad standards for the Bible class. In March, they had already approved current TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills) guidelines for the Bible class but Friday's vote follows the opinion handed down last week by Attorney General Greg Abbott that affirmed the constitutionality of the proposed standards.

"We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don’t want to stifle what they (school districts) are doing in classrooms," said board member Cynthia Dunbar, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Texas high schools can start offering the Bible class for the 2008-09 school year now that the rule has been approved by over two-thirds of the board.

"Elective Bible courses now have the final green light from the Texas State Board of Education and Texas has now gained an academic advantage," said Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs for Free Market Foundation, who testified before the board in support of the class on Thursday.

Some critics, however, said that the without specific guidelines, school districts offering the course could run into legal issues later if a neutral viewpoint of religion is not maintained in the class.

But supporters of the rule say that such concerns are already addressed in the TEKS guidelines, which call for "religious neutrality" and the accommodation of diverse religious views in the classroom.

Furthermore, they argue, the Bible class examines the impact of the Bible on history and literature and is not about religion.

The author of the original bill, Rep. Warren Chisum, had previously affirmed that the class would not "preach the Bible" but examine it as a "document that has historical value." State lawmakers passed legislation on the Bible course in May.

"As we stated and the Attorney General has now confirmed, the current [standards] are sufficient and we are ready to move forward on the new Bible course laws," added Kelly Shackelford, president of Free Market Foundation, a group that helped passed legislation for the class.

Texas now joins other states like Georgia that offer Bible electives in high schools.

===========

Bible class OK'd for high schools

First Amendment clash feared


Monday, July 21, 2008
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/21/bible-class-okd-for-high-schools/

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) | The Texas State Board of Education has given final approval to establishing Bible classes in public high schools, rejecting calls to draw specific teaching guidelines and warnings that it could lead to constitutional problems in the classroom.

The Legislature passed a law in 2007 allowing Bible courses to be offered as an elective. They are supposed to focus on the history and literature of the Bible without preaching or disparaging any faith.

State officials still are waiting for an attorney general's ruling on whether the classes must be offered to students or left to school districts to decide.

Critics say the rule adopted 10-5 by the board doesn't provide specific enough guidelines to help teachers and school districts know how to do that and avoid a First Amendment clash over freedom of religion.

"This is what happens when our elected officials put politics and personal agendas ahead of the interests of our schoolchildren and their families," said Ryan Valentine, deputy director of the liberal Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the influence of religion in public policy.

Supporters say schools will have all the constitutional guidance they need. The purpose of the classes is to teach biblical content and its context in modern society, including culture, art and public policy.

The adopted rule follows broad guidelines used for English and social studies classes. It says courses should follow applicable law and "all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of students in their school district."

Courses shall not "endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective," the rule says.

"I think that's pretty specific," said Jonathan Saenz of the conservative Free Market Foundation. "The constitutional safeguards are there."

Mark Chancey, associate professor in religious studies at Southern Methodist University, has studied Bible classes already offered in about 25 districts for the Texas Freedom Network.

The study found most of the courses were explicitly devotional with almost exclusively Christian, usually Protestant, perspectives.

It also found that most were taught by teachers with no academic training in biblical, religious or theological studies and who were not familiar with the issues of separation of church and state.

"Some classes promote creation science. Some classes denigrate Judaism. Some classes explicitly encourage students to convert to Christianity or to adopt Christian devotional practices," Mr. Chancey said. "This is all well-documented, and the board knows it."

===========

Local Districts Aren’t Rushing To Add Bible Courses

Reporter: By Matt Felder
KWTX [Waco]
matt.felder@kwtx.com
July 21, 2008
http://www.kwtx.com/home/headlines/25734594.html

The State Board of Education gave the green light for elective Bible courses to be offered Texas high schools Friday, but administrators in some school districts in Central Texas say don't expect those courses to show up in the classroom come August.

One reason is the guidelines approved are vague, with school districts left to figure out and design their own courses.

This leaves schools in the area choosing to take a wait and see approach, in hopes of avoiding any constitutional conflicts.

The 2007 Legislature passed a law allowing Bible courses to be offered as an elective, focused on the history and literature of the Bible, without preaching or disparaging any faith.

Only 50 high schools across the state currently offer a Bible-based course.

Belton High School has offered one as an English elective for the past five years.

Using the Bible as a textbook, the course combines literature with history and geography to enhance reading, writing and research skills, which is one model other school districts may look to when creating their own.

"So that if and when, we implement it here, we can learn from what they're going and we can borrow some of they're good practices," Temple ISD spokesperson Regina Baird said.

The problem is, the newly adopted guidelines aren't exactly concrete, leaving schools to choose and design their own Bible curriculum.

Attorney General Greg Abbott says the standards look to be in-line with the first amendment, but his office can't guarantee the courses taught in high schools will be constitutional because they haven't been reviewed, which is one reason many districts are taking a wait and see approach.

"We do not want to create a Bible class that either promotes the religious views of teachers or students or disparages those views," Copperas Cove Deputy Superintendent Bobby Ott said.

"And we do not want to be deemed unconstitutional."

Plus, with the upcoming year, right around the corner, there is simply not enough time to design a whole new course, before the doors open in August.

"We're not going to try and add it this year because our course catalog has already been printed and it's already been distributed to students," Baird said.

"It's already online, but it is something we're watching as a potential for this next school year."

The Texas House Public Education Committee did urge the Board of Education to approve specific guidelines, but because it didn't, the door to constitutional violations and lawsuits may be wide open, if school districts aren't careful how they design their bible courses.

===========

Texas Bible Class Draws Criticism

CBNNews.com
July 21, 2008
http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/413545.aspx

Teenage students in Texas will soon have the option to take a Bible class without the strict boundaries of state standards and guidelines.

Members of the Texas State Board of Education gave the okay Friday for elective Bible classes to be offered in all public high schools, as long as they only focus on history, content, and influence of the Scripture.

The decision will allow districts to follow broad guidelines already in place for English and social studies classes, rather than specific rules set by the state.

"A school district has the right to choose their own Bible curriculum because they know their students best," board member Barbara Cargill said.

Legislators approved the Bible elective last year and about 25 Texas schools already offer the course.

Still, critics called the decision "deeply depressing," claiming it violates the constitutional rights of students in the 1,039 school Texas districts it affects.

"This is what happens when our elected officials put politics and personal agendas ahead of the interests of our school children and their families," said Ryan Valentine with the Texas Freedom Network, a group that follows the influence of religion in public policy.

Those favoring the new rule - adopted by the board with a 10-5 vote - argue the it says courses cannot "endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective."

"I think that's pretty specific," said Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation. "The constitutional safeguards are there."

The Bible course was put in place to teach biblical content and its influence in today's society. The new guidelines will go into effect Sept. 1.

Sources: The Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Texas Cable News

===========

Bible Classes Could Be Offered in Local Public High Schools

Lubbock News Channel 11
KCBD
Posted: July 22, 2008
http://www.kcbd.com/Global/story.asp?S=8718061&nav=menu69_2_9

Local public school districts are now considering offering bible classes as electives in their high schools. Texas State Board of Education members gave final approval to the new curriculum last week.

The bill was first introduced as a mandatory bible class in public high schools. After ten amendments were made to the bill, it is now set as an elective course, as long as it is taught as a history class and not pushing students to believe a certain faith.

Along with math and English, Lubbock public schools could soon be offering bible courses. "It's more of a history rather than a specific religion you cannot constitutionally talk about specific religions and encourage individuals to be of a certain religious faith or denomination," said Texas State Board of Education member Bob Craig.

Craig voted for final approval to offer bible courses as an elective in public high schools state wide. "There is some dispute. No question about it some people have indicated they would like to have more specific TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) or criteria for the bible courses and some people say what we currently have is sufficient and this allows the school district some flexibility in their program," says Craig.

Two school districts on the South Plains say they might consider the idea. "I think that we're always going to be on the cutting edge and looking for opportunities to provide our students with the courses that they would like to see taught," said Deputy Superintendent of Secondary Education of Lubbock Independent School District Dr. Fred Hardin.

Lubbock Cooper Superintendent Pat Henderson said, "We just don't have room for additional electives but it's something that we will look at and we will discuss it and if it's something our students and our parents are interested in we will certainly look at it."

Henderson says he didn't expect the bill to reach final approval. "I kind of was a little surprised but, as I said, there will be some challenges to it and we will just see how it plays out but for this next year, it's not something that we'll be considering," said Henderson.

The ultimate decision is up to the individual school districts whether or not to offer this course. The districts we talked to said it would depend on interest.

"I don't think it's necessary to have that in Frenship's school district it's more of kind of Trinity's thing," said one high school student.

"I think it should be taught everybody needs to know about the bible about the history what God did for us. I think it should be taught," said another high school student.

The American Civil Liberties Union says they are going to monitor the courses until they see what the school's curriculums are. The local ACLU president says this is not going to be a constitutional issue but he could see mainstream denominations not agreeing with what is being taught.

==========

Bible classes a possibility for MISD

By CHARLES IYOHO
Marshall News Messenger
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
http://www.marshallnewsmessenger.com/news/content/news/stories/2008/072308_WEB_bible.html

Marshall Independent School District officials will conduct as much research as possible and consult with students, community and school board members, before considering instituting Bible classes as an elective for students, district representatives said.

Last week, the Texas State Board of Education gave final approval for establishing Bible courses in public institutions, despite much criticism of the rule by critics who say its teaching guidelines are without enough specifics and that it could lead to constitutional problems in the classroom.

The rule was adopted 10 to 5 by the board.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a law allowing Bible courses to be offered as an elective, according to an Associated Press report.

The classes are supposed to focus strictly on the history and literature of the Bible without preaching or belittling other religious philosophies.

State officials, at the moment, are waiting for a Texas Attorney General's ruling on whether the classes are mandatory or can be left up to school districts to decide whether to implement.

Proponents of the policy say schools will have all the constitutional guidance they need.

The aim of the classes is to teach biblical content and its context in modern society, including culture, art and public policy, according to the AP report.

"There's no curriculum developed yet, so most schools are holding off to see what the curriculum looks like," said Deputy Superintendent Melinda Jones. "It will be up to the board, whether or not we approve it. But I'm sure if there's interest by the students that the board is going to be interested in providing it for them."

According to the adopted rule, which follows broad guidelines used for English and social studies classes, Bible classes should follow applicable law and "all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions and perspectives of students in their school district."

Courses shall not "endorse, favor or promote or disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective," the rule states.

"You always have to be careful about not forcing someone's religious views on someone else," said Ms. Jones.

In a recent study conducted by Mark Chancey, an associate professor in religious studies at Southern Methodist University, examining Bible classes offered in about 25 districts for the Texas Freedom Network, it found that most of the courses were "explicitly devotional" with almost exclusively Christian, usually Protestant, perspectives.

It also found that most of the teachers had no academic training in biblical, religious or theological studies.

A majority of them, in addition, were not familiar with issues pertaining to separation of church and state.

MISD Curriculum and Instruction Director Mariann Middleton said before the district even ponders implementing the program, school officials first will develop "a really clear course description and course syllabus" and discuss the possibility with parents.

School districts have until the start of the 2009-2010 school year to develop teacher training sessions and come up with materials and resources for the program, Ms. Middleton said.

"It's all going to balance on whether the community or the board feel this is something that we need to provide for our students," Ms. Jones said. "We want a clear cut picture for the board to make a decision with," and "we want the board to know everything we're going to be teaching."

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Editorial: Lawsuits sure to follow Bible classes

Waco Tribune-Herald
Thursday, July 24, 2008
http://www.wacotrib.com/opin/content/news/opinion/stories/2008/07/24/07242008wacedit.html

The Texas Legislature should never have passed legislation that adds Bible courses to public schools without guidance, funding or assistance to handle the inevitable consequences.

That said, once the Legislature passed the law that schools could use the Bible as a textbook to teach the Old Testament and New Testament, lawmakers punted the problem of how school districts should handle Bible classes to the State Board of Education.

For its part, the State Board of Education now has ducked the problem of establishing specific requirements and standards to help teachers and school districts from violating constitutional religious-freedom protections.

Instead, by a vote of 10 to 5, the board adopted general guidelines for the courses while ignoring appeals by the House Public Education Committee that specific standards must be approved to avoid constitutional violations and lawsuits.

As originally written, the legislation would require school districts to offer the Bible courses if 15 or more high school students requested the courses. The attorney general is expected to rule whether the new state law requires that all school districts offer the Bible courses.

The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the influence of religion in public policy, has reported that about 25 Texas school districts already offered Bible study classes before the new legislation was passed in 2007.

The network’s study found that most of the Texas Bible courses were devotional in nature. It found that most of the teachers had no academic training in biblical, religious or theological studies. Additionally, most teachers were unfamiliar with the constitutional issues involving the separation of church and state.

Nothing has changed with the passage of this new law, particularly since the Texas State Board of Education rejected the need for spelling out specific teaching guidelines for the courses.

If Texas’ 1,040 school districts are forced to provide the Bible courses against their better judgment, this new law will be another unfunded mandate. Even worse, the new law certainly could spawn lawsuits against teachers and school districts that will end up in costly litigation paid for by the taxpayers.

In 2005, the West Texas Ector County school board ignored advice that a proposed Bible class would prompt a lawsuit. That ignored advice proved expensive when a lawsuit challenging the course as illegal was settled with the district agreeing to change the curriculum.

What the supporters of this legislation don’t recognize is that opponents to Bible courses in public schools are more likely to come from followers of other faiths rather than from opponents of religion.

The State Board of Education should help avoid the confusion, anger and lawsuits by providing specific teaching guidelines and constitutional guidance for teachers and school districts.


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 July 25