Texas may require schools to carry elective on Bible
Legislation calls for an 'objective and nondevotional'
April 15, 2007
HOUSTON — The Lone Star State could become the first
in the nation to require all public high schools to
offer an elective course on the Bible.
Hearings continued in the Legislature last week on a
bill that calls for school districts in Texas to offer
a class on "the history and literature of the Old and
New Testaments eras" if at least 15 students sign up.
The bill was written by state Rep. Warren Chisum, a
West Texas Republican who teaches Sunday school at a
Baptist church. He said the course would not treat the
Bible as a "worship document" but would promote
religious and cultural literacy by "educating our
students academically and not devotionally."
The bill, which says the class is to be taught in "an
objective and nondevotional manner," does not provide
funding or training for school districts and teachers.
This presents a problem because most high school
teachers aren't qualified to teach the Bible as a
historical or literary text, said Kathy Miller,
president of the Texas Freedom Network, which
describes itself as a mainstream watchdog "to counter
the religious right."
"The fear is that teachers with limited training and
no guidance will be called upon to teach a course for
which their experience draws largely from Sunday
school," Miller said. "It would be difficult for them
to keep their own religious perspective out of the
classroom. You can almost hear the lawyers lining up."
A study conducted for her group by Mark Chancey, a
religious studies professor at Southern Methodist
University, found that of Texas' 25 public school
districts with a Bible course, 22 districts' offerings
had a Christian slant.
"When teachers don't have solid training in biblical
studies and 1st Amendment issues, then they fall back
on what they know from prior knowledge," Chancey told
state legislators last week. "Courses end up being
sectarian, often despite their best intentions."
He said one teacher showed students a PowerPoint
presentation titled "God's Road Map for Your Life."
Included was a slide called "Jesus Christ Is the One
and Only Way." Another teacher taught students that
NASA had found a missing day and time that
corresponded to a biblical story of the sun standing
still. One school showed "VeggieTales" videos, which
feature computer-animated Christian vegetables that
"We have hard data on what's happening in Texas Bible
classrooms, and it's troubling," Chancey said.
Chisum's legislation says the Bible would be the
primary textbook for the class. It allows but doesn't
require the classes to include secular books or those
from other religions.
Critics say that by using the Bible as the main text —
instead of a book about the Bible's influence on
history and literature — the bill favors a curriculum
that's more devotional than scholarly. Chisum
dismisses that contention.
"It just makes sense to use the Bible if that's the
course that you're talking about," he said. "It's the
most available book in the world."
Julie Drenner of Texans for Family Values, who
testified Thursday in favor of the bill, said the
legislation left the course's curriculum up to
teachers and school districts.
"The best way for policing any education requirement
is at our local school level, and any complaints are
best heard by people at the local school level because
they're the ones elected and directly accountable to
the people in their district," Drenner said.
Chisum is chairman of the state House Appropriations
Committee, the second most powerful position in the
chamber. The bill is coauthored by 52 of his 149
In February, Chisum circulated an
anti-evolution-education memo from a Georgia
legislator that contained links to a website that
alleged international Jewish conspiracies. Chisum
later apologized, saying he had not read the memo
carefully before distributing it to House members.