“The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian Religion.” 1797, The Treaty of Tripoli, initiated by President Washington, signed by President John Adams, and approved by the Senate of the United States
Recently I wrote a post about Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin because of his ridiculous notion that the solution to gun violence was to have roving ‘prayer groups’ throughout the city of Louisville. Today, I find I must re-visit Governor Bevin, for he has crossed a line that I find intolerable.
“Separation of church and state” is paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson and used by others expressing an understanding of the intent and function of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Governor Bevin is a former businessman, and apparently has very little knowledge of the Constitution, and the same must surely be true for the members of the state legislature. For last week, Governor Bevin signed into law HB-128:
“AN ACT relating to Bible literacy courses in the public schools.
Create a new section of KRS Chapter 156 to require the Kentucky Board of Education to promulgate administrative regulations to establish an elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament, or a combination of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible; require that the course provide to students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy; permit students to use various translations of the Bible for the course; amend KRS 158.197 to permit a school council to offer an elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament, or a combination of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible.”
The Kentucky House of Representatives is currently comprised of 100 members, 64 of whom are republicans. The Kentucky Senate is currently comprised of 38 members, 27 (71%) of whom are republicans. There seems to be a disconnect between the state of Kentucky and the rest of the nation, for most of us understand that religion is not to be taught in public, taxpayer-funded schools. It crosses a line. Yet, this law allows Kentucky schools to teach from and about the Bible, a document that is unique to one religion, the Christian religion.
Within the United States, there are nine major religions outside of Christianity. There are also a number of Native American religions, as well as those who identify as agnostics, atheists, secularists, or simply ‘unaffiliated’. In fact, the percentage of Christians in the U.S. has dropped from 93% of the population in 1962 to just 70.6% in 2014, according to Pew Research Center.
According to Bevin, “The idea that we would not want this to be an option for people in school, that would be crazy. I don’t know why every state would not embrace this, why we as a nation would not embrace this.”
According to the bill, the courses must discuss all aspects of the Bible — such as characters, poetry, and narratives — because they are “prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.” Excuse me, but only the culture and society of Christianity … what about the rest of us?
The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) establishes that the Constitution, federal laws made pursuant to it, and treaties made under its authority, constitute the supreme law of the land. It provides that state courts are bound by the supreme law; in case of conflict between federal and state law, the federal law must be applied.
Why does it matter? Apart from the illegality, it matters for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that non-Christian parents will almost certainly have strenuous objections to their children being taught another religion that may be contrary to their own. Think about it this way … how would Christian parents react if they found their child was being taught the Qur’an in their public school?
It matters because religion is a very private, personal choice, and even among Christians, there are numerous sects who practice their religion in a variety of ways. It matters because, while the intention of the Kentucky law is said to be simply to use the Bible as a teaching tool for literature, art, culture, history, etc., there is a fine line between that and pushing beliefs. It is, after all, Kentucky, one of the most homophobic states in the nation.
If there were to be any fairness in this law, then they would also teach from the Qur’an, the Talmud, the Tripitaka, the I Ching, and … well, you get the picture. At this point, the schools would no longer be teaching Math, History, Literature, Science, or anything but religion. We send our children to school to learn to think for themselves, not to be told how to think.
Then, of course, there is the taxpayer’s viewpoint. I willingly pay taxes and am happy to support public schools, however I draw the line at paying for children to learn a religion. Teaching religion is the responsibility of parents and churches, if the parents so choose. It is not John Q. Taxpayers responsibility.
Mind you that I have nothing against Christianity, though it is not my own. I also have nothing against Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Jain, or a hundred other religions. I believe everyone should have the freedom of religion, but also the freedom from religion. When it becomes a part of public school education, or workplace mores, then it is taking rights away from some and it is tearing down the fundamental premise of separation of church and state.
The most likely outcome is that the law will be challenged in the courts and ultimately struck down as being unconstitutional. That is the right and proper outcome. However, it will take time and money – taxpayers’ money.