Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bible Instruction in Tennessee Public Schools.

How can you teach America's history, politics, culture, foreign policy, or economics without addressing the profound influence of religion? You can't. But it's what you teach about religion that matters - not just to the creation of historical record but to the future of the democracy.

What the continuing contest over the meaning of the Establishment Clause and "separation of church and state" proves is that religious tolerance means many things to many people depending on their objective. (Note the Supreme Court's notorious unpredictability when ruling Establishment Clause cases - or even their avoidance of it when addressing, for instance, patients' rights.)

If the objective of religious education is to promote a particular theological viewpoint - to win souls to one's own conception of God - you're infringing on the separation of church and state. If you're looking at the influence of religion with a critical eye, you're representing the appropriate forces that have shaped the nation. The hinge then on properly approaching religion in public schools - and in society - is not far from the concept of informed consent that patients' rights advocates discuss.

Individual autonomy is incumbent on the choices of an informed conscience. So the new news coming out of Tennessee isn't, in and of itself, alarming to me. Yes, religion, the bible as literature, should be taught in schools. Indeed is necessary for a full educational experience. But how religion is approached is a difficult thing to legislate. Only citizens' constant scrutiny protects the very essential provision of religious tolerance.

I say it again and again: those who work to legislate their particular ideological beliefs are essentially undermining their own right to do so. Tolerance doesn't work one way. The citizens of Tennessee are left to assert that tolerance means both for and from.

From the Examiner:

Tennessee has joined several other states and determined how biblical principles can be incorporated into public school curriculum.

According to the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, Chief Justice, Warren Berger, notes, “the Constitution does not require complete separation of church and state. It mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions and forbids hostility toward any.” Although many individuals are under the assumption that permitting Bible teachings in public school environments breaks a law and goes against Constitutional rights, a complete severance of religious studies in public classrooms is not required.

Each school can elect how the new curriculum fits into its programs and teachings accordingly; however, theTennessee Board of Education has an approved curriculum it will provide to schools to act as a guideline for how instructors are to teach the information. Prior to the Board’s decision, each school district in Tennessee was permitted to institute its own Bible courses. The new guidelines indicate that schools must use the pre-approved curriculum.

The new guidelines include which translations of the Bible can be taught as well as the instruction of religious history and literature of the text. The curriculum also covers the continued religious and social implications of the Bible’s messages and morals.

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