LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. (KT) - The Anderson County High School site-based council voted unanimously last Tuesday evening to not proceed with offering a Bible elective about the historical influences of the Old Testament.
The school will instead offer a “world religions” course that will include Christianity and Islam, among others.
Principal Chris Glass and social studies teacher Corey Sayre, who belong to the eight-member council comprised of elected parents and teachers, both expressed concerns that a course on the Bible could create numerous legal problems, a perspective they said is shared by the district’s attorney, Robert Chenoweth.
Along with Glass and Sayre, those voting to approve the world religions elective instead of the Bible elective included teachers Heather Adams, Anne Kline and Lauren Vasser, along with parents Shannon Carpenter, Hope Franklin and Kimberly Quire.
According to Glass, Sayre spent last month creating a curriculum outline of the course, but both decided the class could violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
“I have full confidence in Corey, but I am also worried about the constitutional responsibility that goes with a course like this,” Glass said. “I attend church on Sundays but at the same time I understand we have constitutional boundaries.
“Separation of church and state plays a role in what we do at the school.”
Sayre said that the standards laid out for the course by the Kentucky of Department of Education were “vague.”
“I’ve been worried about the constitutionality of it for a while,” he said. “It’s very difficult to stay in parameters and stay on course and make sure you don’t cross constitutional boundaries.”
An undisclosed number of students signed up for the Old Testament elective after the site-based council approved the master calendar containing the class last month. Now those students will be alerted to the course change so they may opt out or keep it, Glass said.
Sayre said the curriculum outline is still undeveloped, but added during the meeting that if enough students keep the course, it will encompass “Abrahamic” religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, along with Eastern religions.
When asked about the Christian portion of the world religions course, Sayre said he “won’t teach theology,” and will focus on the New Testament and its influence on cultural, political or artistic movements.
Glass and Sayre were the only site-based council members to comment on switching to a world religions class during the meeting.
An update of the decision posted on The Anderson News Facebook page drew more than 450 comments. Reactions were mixed, some applauding the idea, others critical of the vote.
“I think this class change is a great idea!” one commenter wrote. “I’m a Christian, but this class will broaden the horizons of so many! Wish I would have had this as an option during school. It’s only fair to teach multiple cultural religious backgrounds. And this comes from someone very devout!”
Another commenter approved of the decision, arguing that parents should be tasked with imparting religious lessons to their children.
“I support this decision as a parent,” they wrote. “You teach your kids about religion and I’ll teach mine. I send my kids to school to learn things that will make them employable. Now there I have some issues with how schools in general, not just ACHS, are structured. But that is a different discussion for another day. As far as this goes, I can handle the character-building myself.”
Others expressed concern about the diminished role of the Bible in public schools.
“I don’t know about y’all but it scares and saddens to me to read these comments and to see just how many people do not believe in God Our Heavenly Father. I am not judging, I only have to answer for myself, but still sad. Glad I know where I am spending eternity.”
One commenter said they were “thankful” for the change.
“You’re all getting upset that your religion isn’t being offered as an elective at the school, but my religions has not once been discussed to be an elective. Why should your Christian beliefs overpower my belief in Wicca? You’re all saying it’s a sad day, but as someone who doesn’t have the same beliefs, I am thankful your religion isn’t seen as superior to mine or anyone else’s. Stop acting as if your religion is better than others and we may have a better world.”
It took more than two years for the site-based council to reach a decision on whether to offer a Bible elective since the state legislature fortified the option with HB128.
The law mandated the Kentucky Department of Education develop academic standards for three elective social studies courses offered to grades nine and up. Subjects span the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Hebrew Scriptures.
At the time, school officials here said they were waiting for those standards before deciding whether to offer the elective. The standards were approved in June of last year.
Some districts were fast to approve the electives, but the ACLU reported numerous “findings” in its first round of open records requests.
Charges included “rote memorization of Biblical text” in McCracken County and “using the Bible to impart life lessons” in Barren, McCracken and Letcher counties. Glass and site-based council members who could be reached for comment adopted a wait-and-see approach, saying they would seek guidance from KDE before voting to offer the elective.
Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said two weeks ago there would be a chance the site-based council could vote on a Bible Elective by Aug. 8, but high school administrators were considering “guidance” from the ACLU — guidance the ACLU said it never gave.
“We never sent out any guidance to counties,” said Amber Duke, the organization’s communications director. “We sent out open records act requests to all the districts in the state to find out what was going on with their Bible literacy for the school year.”
Mitchell responded to an open records request from The Anderson News via email on July 31. The email contained the official open records request from the ACLU, along with a previously undisclosed memo from the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent to all Kentucky public schools. In the memo, FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel lays out what he calls “several serious issues” with Bible literacy electives.
“It is difficult to teach the Bible objectively and critically, as the First Amendment requires,” Seidel wrote. “For instance, few Christian parents want their public schools teaching that some Bible translations claim that Jesus was born of a ‘virgin’ because they mistranslated ‘young woman.’
This simple fact would have to be taught in unbiased classes and is recognized in more accurate Bible translations.”
Seidel goes on to describe religion as a “divisive force” in public schools, citing Supreme Court precedents.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly noted the ‘[s]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are non-adherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.”
The ACHS site-based council, which meets monthly, was forced to hold a special-called meeting to vote on offering a Bible elective before the first day of school.
Principal Glass said enough students enrolled in a Bible elective on the Old Testament to make it an official course, despite its uncertain future.
Those students will now be alerted to the course change and given the chance to remain or opt out, he said.