There are two catalysts for this discussion. A bill now before the Kentucky General Assembly. SB142 is "AN ACT relating to Bible literacy courses in the public schools." The bill, if adopted would:
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 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.
A second act has been introduced in the House, HB397, the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act." Such acts are generally introduced under the guise of open-minded and critical analysis of "controversial" topics and are basically intended to allow teachers to introduce non-scientific (and often faith-based) instructional materials into the classroom. This act would:
Create a new section of KRS Chapter 158 to encourage local district teachers and administrators to foster an environment promoting objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories; allow teachers to use, as permitted by the local board of education, materials in addition to state-approved texts and instructional materials for discussion of scientific theories including evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning; clarify that provisions do not promote religious doctrine or discrimination
These acts are presented against a background I believe is unique to Kentucky. Chapter 158 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes is entitled Conduct of Schools--Special Programs. There are several sections of that chapter that are (IMHO) decidedly not within the provisions of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
- 158.170: Requires the Bible to be read in class by the teacher. It has a provision whereby a child can't be required to read the Bible against the wishes of "his" parent or guardian.
- 158.175: Specifies the manner in which the Lord's Prayer is to be recited in the public classroom. "Pupils shall be reminded that this Lord's prayer is the prayer our pilgrim fathers recited when they came to this country in their search for freedom. Pupils shall be informed that these exercises are not meant to influence an individual's personal religious beliefs in any manner. The exercises shall be conducted so that pupils shall learn of our great freedoms, including the freedom of religion symbolized by the recitation of the Lord's prayer." In this section, "Pupil participation in the recitation of the prayer and pledge of allegiance shall be voluntary."
- 158.177: This section is titled "Teaching of evolution -- Right to include Bible theory of creation." Paragraph (3) states "No teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational religious belief."
- 158.178: Requires the Ten Commandments be displayed. The provisions here state this is only if there are funds and there is a requirement for fine print, "The secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States."
- 158.197: Authorizes the display of historic religious and nonreligious artifacts.