So says John Ferguson, a constitutional law scholar and Baptist minister who offered to help the school board put together guidelines for the Bible courses that would help local school districts avoid violating the constitution and being dragged into court, in the Houston Chronicle.
So as a constitutional scholar who has worked with numerous school districts on issues such as this, last week I went to Austin to offer my advice to the State Board of Education as it decided on state curriculum standards for new public school classes about the Bible’s influence in history and literature.
I was sure the state board would give this matter the same thoughtful evaluation as it gave courses in aerobics and apparel in our public schools. In fact, the state board’s aerobics standards are specific to the point of making sure students can identify appropriate footwear.
I do have to note that Ferguson was being a little naive to think that the Texas SBOE was going to be thoughtful or ethical in any situation. You’ll have a difficult time finding a more bass ackwards group of elected officials anywhere in the country. Ferguson then addresses some of the specific things said by board members to avoid doing their job. Like this one:
“It’s too hard and controversial.” Instead of shouldering their responsibility, state board members abandoned their duty because they might create unconstitutional guidelines. Yet they met across the street from one of the state’s flagship public universities and were offered the help of the Society of Biblical Literature the Bible academics. They also were offered the assistance of experienced constitutional attorneys. Instead of using these resources to provide the best guidance possible to Texas schools, they abdicated their ethical responsibility to Texas school children. I suppose they believe the school board in Mullin, with its six-man football team and pre-K to 12th grade school house, will have no problem finding these same kinds of resources.
And this one:
“We are worried about local control.” One board member claimed school districts don’t want state direction. This hasn’t been my experience. When I provide training to schools around the nation, administrators, teachers and local board members are desperate for help. They want to provide Bible courses; but they also want the tools to do it constitutionally so that they don’t waste taxpayer dollars to defend against lawsuits.
Let me suggest that all of these excuses are a cover for the real reason they rejected the help of experts in religion and law in this situation: they knew that those experts would craft standards that would lead to Bible courses that actually are scholarly and objective. And that’s not their goal. They want to offer a pretense of meeting the Supreme Court’s standards for Bible courses, but they don’t want to actually meet them because they really do want the courses to teach kids that the Bible is true. All of this is a ruse, a way of covering their butts while giving a wink and a nod to local school districts, who will undoubtedly offer courses that will get them dragged into court – but it won’t be the state board that has to pay for it.