Public and charter schools throughout the state have been straying from a 2007 state law regulating how Bible courses may be taught constitutionally, according to a study put out by the Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. Of the 57 school districts and three charter schools that feature Bible courses in their curriculum, only 11 were deemed “most successful,” indicating sufficient constitutionality.
House Bill 1287 requires attention be paid in the classroom to the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate their influence on history and literature; it also permits courses taught purely on the Bible, provided they present the text without religious bias. As the Austin American-Statesman reported, the TFN claims the bill “was toothless” because its curriculum requirements were vague and it did not offer adequate training for teachers.
The 81-page study, authored by Southern Methodist University religion professor Mark Chancey, includes recommendations for how the law could be more productive. Chancey calls for detailed curriculum standards, in-house training for teachers, and closer monitoring of schools’ Bible courses. He also shares how religious bias played out in classrooms across the state. Here are some notable examples:
Chancey observed that many courses were taught with a distinct sectarian bias, most often conservative Protestantism.
Example: Belton ISD uses the NIV Study Bible, a Protestant translation that includes detailed notes from a Protestant perspective on why this Bible was translated the way it was.
The Bible = God’s Word
Several districts’ courses advocated or assumed that God inspired the Bible, sometimes suggesting that God dictated it to scribes, guaranteed it was free of all error, and oversaw translations to ensure they remained consistent.
Example: A PowerPoint slide from Klein ISD reads: “The Bible is united in content because there is no contradictions in the writing [sic]. The reason for this is because the Bible is written under God’s direction and inspiration.”
Judaism Through a Christian Lens
Courses often portrayed the Old Testament as “a set of prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament,” even though Judaism does not subscribe to the teachings of the New Testament.
Example: The book used by Lazbuddie ISD begins: “The OT is a history of the Hebrew race through which this Person, who would crush the head of Satan and redeem mankind, would be born. More than once Satan tried to annihilate the Hebrews to prevent the Messiah from being born. There are many sub-themes in the OT, the main theme is the preparation of the One who will be born in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4). This theme of the OT is fulfilled in the NT.”
Many lesson plans taught Judaism as a religion that was superseded by Christianity and that “God’s new covenant with Christians has replaced God’s old covenant with Jews.” Others displayed lack of knowledge and sensitivity to the religion.
Example: An Ector County ISD PowerPoint on the New Testament sums up “Life in 1st Century Palestine” with: “Religious—very important but lacking spiritual fervor; they were waiting for the Messiah.”
Example: A Dalhart ISD PowerPoint presentation used a graphic image from the Holocaust on a slide describing the massacre of King Ahab’s family and supporters. As the biblical story reads, the slaughter is performed at God’s request.
The Bible as a Science Textbook
Course materials presented events in the Bible as factual, despite a lack of scientific evidence.
Example: A workbook from Dayton ISD suggested that biblical characters’ life spans decreased “due to major environmental changes brought about by the flood.”
Example: Students in Amarillo ISD were given a chart titled “Racial Origins traced from Noah,” that described how African races and Canaanites descended from Noah’s son, Ham, who had a curse placed upon him by his father. This belief was used as a rationale for nineteenth-century slavery “and is sometimes still present in modern racist ideology.”
The Bible as America’s Foundation
Some districts forward the notion that the Founding Fathers were orthodox Protestants “who intended for the United States to be a distinctively Christian nation” with laws and government based on the Bible.
Example: Belton ISD gives its students a pamphlet titled “One Nation Under God,” which uses quotes from historical figures such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin to argue that the United States is a Christian entity. The document’s conclusion reads:
“Giving God His rightful place in the national life of this country has provided a rich heritage for all its citizens. Yet, wonderful as the benefits of that heritage may be, a true relationship to God is not a matter of national declaration but rather the personal responsibility of each individual citizen. Would you like to place your trust in Jesus Christ and receive Him as your Savior from Sin?”