As things begin to heat up over the lawsuit to stop the highly sectarian Bible curriculum in Odessa, Texas, one courageous teacher in the district is taking a public stand. Her name is Lisa Roth and she is Jewish. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper trying to inform the citizens of the area what it’s like to Jewish in a place like that and why the Bible curriculum makes it more difficult. I’ll reprint the entire letter below the fold.
I am writing as a parent, as a member of the Jewish community in the Permian Basin and, despite concerns about my job, as a teacher in this school district.
I have been respectful and professional in expressing my thoughts about selecting a Bible course in ECISD.
I reviewed the Bible curricula under consideration last spring, and then I spoke at the public forum.
Other members of our Jewish community reviewed the curricula and wrote letters to the school board, as well. And yet, when it came time for a final board decision, Randy Rives said publicly that he hadn’t heard from anyone in the Jewish community.
And most recently, I read in the Odessa American Butch Foreman’s disrespectful response to concerns about the Bible class: “If they don’t have children in the class, they can kiss my butt. They’re looking to impose their beliefs and their views on everybody, and we don’t put up with that crap out here.”
Enough is enough. These repeated public insults of my religion and our legitimate questions about the Bible curriculum are perfect examples of the very concerns I have about a biased presentation of the Bible in our schools.
After all, as some of us pointed out in our presentations to the board last spring, there is more than one version of the Bible. There’s even more than one Christian version.
Furthermore, there have been and are currently Jewish students in Odessa and Midland who are reduced to tears or fighting to defend themselves because of religious harassment.
No, they’re not in the Bible class right now. But does that make their experience any less real?
And make no mistake; just because it’s an elective doesn’t mean it won’t affect my child or others. If we offered an elective promoting white supremacy, it would certainly have an effect on all students, whether they took the class or not.
This is why I object to a Bible class in public school that suggests the supremacy of one religion over another.
You might think one religion IS better than another, but public school is not the place to teach this.
Unfortunately, the Bible curriculum currently being offered does do this. It is not just a class about the history of the Bible, or the history of the Bible in literature. I have read some of the curriculum, and I invite everyone to do the same.
While the writers claim it is not biased, it may be hard to recognize the bias if you have been raised in the particular tradition it teaches.
But the two students in the course who were quoted in the newspaper recently said it clearly. Although one person claimed the curriculum is unbiased, she went on to say, “However, I can see people being upset with it being “only Christian-based.” And another man, in claiming that our ancestors came to American to have Christian religious freedom, seems to have missed two points. First, his ancestors might have been seeking freedom to worship a Christian faith; mine were seeking freedom to follow their own Jewish faith. Second, it is important to remember that our country’s founders wanted to escape the religious tyranny of their country’s government. They set up some safeguards, including the First Amendment, to prevent such tyranny from happening all over again.
Harassment of Jewish children is a fact in our school system. In this atmosphere of religious intolerance, there is no such thing as a “harmless” Bible class that promotes only one Christian perspective.
This atmosphere of religious intolerance is both fostered and legitimized by Foreman’s remarks. My experience as a parent, a Jew, and a teacher in this district is not “crap.” My daughter’s tears are not “crap.” My effort to educate Odessa about the experiences of our children is not “imposing my view on you.”
I am not the only teacher or community member who objects to this particular Bible course. But few will speak out for fear of retribution.
Our founding fathers most likely argued about how to form this new country, but I don’t think fear and intimidation is what any of them had in mind for religious freedom. How long are we going to let this continue?
Yes, we can study aspects of Bible in public school; but this course currently being taught is not the way to do it. There are other options to consider.
I ask this community and the school board to consider carefully what values you want to teach the children in our community and the best way to guide them. Every action you take — or don’t take — teaches something, even if only by example.
If, as I strongly believe, the Christian majority in our community believes in religious tolerance, I urge people to speak up and speak out against the current Bible curriculum and Foreman’s intolerant remarks.
Unfortunately, I doubt many will understand her concerns or care about her experiences or those of her daughter. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the main thing she gets from expressing her thoughts are rude comments and threats.