Texas school districts are not compelled to offer classes studying the Bible under a new law, according to a ruling from the Texas State Attorney General, Greg Abbott.
State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, proposed a bill to require the classes, in the 2007 legislative session. Though the bill passed, it was amended several times and in the final form the language was ambiguous as to whether districts would be required to offer the class.
Earlier this year the State Board of Education refused to issue standards for a Bible class, and so the AG’s ruling took on additional urgency: School districts are left to their own devices on creating a Bible class that would pass scrutiny under the 1st Amendment. Several districts in Texas have offered such classes, but when challenged on constitutional grounds, the classes have been modified to avoid advocacy of religion. Most of Texas’s more than 200 school districts are anxious to avoid going to court over courses that they are required to offer.
Now we know the Bible classes are not required.
But if a district does offer the classes, neither the SBOE nor the Attorney General has provided guidance to school districts on how to keep the classes legal. In the absence of clear guidance, individual districts offer Bible classes at their own peril. The districts would bear all litigation costs.
“Local school boards can now breathe a sigh of relief,” Miller said. “The State Board of Education threw them under the bus last month by refusing to adopt the clear, specific standards schools need to give the Bible the respect it deserves and help them stay out of court. Now, schools won’t be required to maneuver through a legal minefield without a map.”
After reading Abbott’s opinion, however, Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation said it was clear “Texas schools are required to have some type of instruction in the Bible, which is the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament.”
“Schools are not required to offer a particular type of course in order to meet the requirement of having some type of instruction in the Bible, but they have to offer something,” Saenz said.
The Free Market Foundation promotes families, churches and freedom.
Abbott’s office referred inquires to the last sentence in the opinion summary:
“If a school district or charter school chooses to offer a course authorized by section 28.011 and fewer than fifteen students at a campus register to enroll in the course, the district or charter school is not required to provide the course at that campus for that semester, but that does not mean that the school is not required to comply with the curriculum requirements in subsection 28.002 (a)(2).”
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bible classes are not popular among Texas teenagers anyway. Maybe the students have more common sense and a greater drive to achieve in education than do the state legislators.
Most Texas high schools offer studies on parts of the Bible, in either in Advanced Placement literature and history courses, or in regular academic English courses. Rep. Warren Chisum and the state legislature appear to have ignored this offering.
Controversy is expected to continue.
- Official opinion of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
- Market Watch, public relationw wire story
- Story from The Dallas Morning News, “Bible Study Optional”
- Austin American-Statesman story