Southern states try to circumvent the First Amendment by teaching the Bible in public schools

I’ve always been wary of teaching “religious studies” below the college level, and for two reasons. First, as in the case discussed below, it’s too often an excuse to proselytize religion in public schools—a violation of the First Amendment. Second, even if you’re doing it to give children a sense of history and culture, there will be huge disputes about what history and culture should be taught. Ideally, you’d want to acquaint kids with not only Christianity and Judaism, but also the religions of the world, now amply represented in the U.S.: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on. But who decides what will be taught? If Islam, can you fairly represent Shia and Sunni? And of course there are the Mormons (with their completely bogus founding) as well as about 30,000 sects of Christianity, not to mention Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox church. How do you give kids an overview of Western and Eastern faiths without stinting some of them.

It’s just a mess, and I’d prefer to leave it to the college level.

One example of the trouble at issue is the new legislative push for bills allowing Bible studies in public schools as part of the regular curriculum. One has already passed in Kentucky, and, as this Washington Post article reports (click on screenshot below for e-reader version), laws are pending in 10 states. Georgia and Arkansas have already passed such bills, which are awaiting the signature of the governor to become law. All this is the result of Project Blitz: a right-wing, evangelical Christian initiative which lobbies for these laws as a way to get Jesus into the classroom. Given who’s pushing this, there’s not much doubt that “general education about religion” is not the goal.

The Supreme Court, as the article notes, has said that it’s okay to teach Bible classes in public schools so long as it’s “part of a secular program of education.” But this isn’t what’s happening, at least in Kentucky where the program is underway. Instead, teachers are imparting moral lessons from the Old and New Testaments, which constitutes Biblical exegesis and theology, and they’re also using it to diss evolution—a way around the legal prohibition of teaching creationism in public schools.  The ACLU has informed the states engaged in this legislation that they need to provide oversight of the classes, but no lawsuits appear to be pending.

A few bits of the article tells you what’s happening. Here’s the main anecdotal story used in the piece: Todd Steenbergen’s class at Barren County High School in Glasgow, Kentucky. Here he is teaching it:

Students describe Steenbergen’s Bible class as a chance to do something they enjoy during the school day — Cole Wilson, who took the class in a previous semester, likened reading the Bible in school to getting the chance to shoot hoops during gym class.

“I like studying the Bible anyway,” agreed Mattie Coomer, who also took the class. “As a Christian, I believe the Bible, it’s a living book — if God is a living God, he’s going to speak through his word every time you open up the Bible. It’s more important than any other book I could be reading.”

Coomer said she just finished reading the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, outside of school, and then started all over again. But that’s not what happens in the classroom. In Steenbergen’s Bible class, the students hardly read the Bible at all.

There is no classroom set of Bibles for every student, no encouragement to download a Bible app on their smartphones. He never assigns chapters or verses to read. Instead, he said, he summarizes biblical stories for them and focuses class time on highlighting connections between the Bible and modern life.

During one class this spring, he spent most of the hour-and-a-half period on a game in which students guessed which theme from the Gospel of Matthew or which blessing from the Beatitudes that Steenbergen meant to connect to when he played clips from country songs and Disney movies.

His consistent message throughout the game was that students should draw moral lessons from the Gospels.

“‘Pure in spirit’ is a good word to equate to humility, humble,” he said. “We see humility, a wise thing that could be applicable for us today. How many of us would like to be more humble about something?” And later: “Was there a time you helped provide some cheer for someone and it made you aware how good it was? . . . We can use wisdom and apply it in new ways today and help people be comforted.”

The drawing of moral lessons from such classes is clearly a violation of the First Amendment, because of course those lessons are always positive, and this is a promotion of Christianity over other faiths. Do you think they teach the genocide approved by Yahweh, or the stoning of the guy who collected sticks on the Sabbath, or Lot’s offer to the mob to let them rape his daughters? I doubt it. This is teaching “civilization and ethics” using the Bible as a framework.

But to me as a scientist, the worst part is how they’re using these laws in Kentucky to do an end-run around the prohibition of teaching creationism (a religious and not a scientific view):

Maggie Dowdy said she picked this course because she thought it would be easy. After all, she already knew the Bible from church.

When the class started with the very first Bible story — the story of creation — she was glad she had chosen it. Here at last was the story of human origins that she believed in — not the facts of evolution that she had been taught in her high school science class.

“When I started learning about [evolution], I thought: ‘That’s not true. Here’s what I believe,’ ” Dowdy said. “I just kind of push it aside now. I know what I believe in. It’s just something the teachers have to teach us, but, no, I believe in creation.”

Other students echoed her. “We’ve always in science learned that perspective, evolution and the big bang,” Morgan Guess said. “This is the class that allows us the other perspective.”

“Allows us the other perspective”? Well, yes, they can take whatever perspective she wants, but it’s a dereliction of duty for professor teaching this stuff to pretend that it’s real, rather than saying that science doesn’t support it. And note how the class is serving to buttress the children’s Christian faith: a sort of Confirmation Bias 101 class.

Lest you get depressed at this point, and you should be given the obdurate religiosity of the American South (there’s also a bill in North Dakota), there are still a few freethinkers. Here’s one:

Only Katie King, 17, expressed doubts about the Bible in a discussion one morning. “I took this class to see for myself if this is what I wanted to follow and believe,” she told classmates. “My parents are so religious. They push it a lot.”

“The Bible per se, some things I’m just like — I don’t know,” said King, who acknowledged that she is often an outlier among her peers because she supports abortion rights and likes reading New York Times articles about politics. “Like one thing — I don’t get that people who are good people, genuinely good, nice people, have good intentions, but because they don’t believe in God, they’re doomed to hell. I can’t accept that. I cannot accept that.”

I hope Katie leaves for college soon, as she’ll be demonized by her peers in Kentucky for saying something like this in the Washington Post. Imagine—she admits she supports abortion choice and reads the New York Times! Satan is licking his chops.

h/t: Bruce


  1. Posted May 10, 2019 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Fairly represent? You can’t fairly represent any sort of history or economics or literature. All those things depend on narrative. I am wary of that discussion too, but the Bible is an important part of western civilization and literature. I would certainly include it with, say, anything else in the Human Being and Citizen curriculum like Chicago does. I really wish I’d had those texts earlier, personally: Shakespeare, the Greeks and Romans, Hammurabi, Book of the Dead, and yes, the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

    • Greg Geisler
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      It’s not that important a part of civilization now nor has it been since the Enlightenment. And the narratives are all derivative and anachronistic today. The problem is the way these classes are framed that ultimately lends credence to the myths. I’m always amused when I hear the phrase “bible study” from a Christian because real “bible study” is what people like Richard Carrier and Bart Ehrmann do. Now if they shared their scholarship as part of their curriculum I’d be less bothered by it. But we know that’s never going to happen. I’m grateful for the FFRF.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      I agree. In my country, small parts of the Bible are taught in literature classes together with Greek myths/epic, a few local legends, and folk tales of several nations. It is generally in a positive sense but peppered with questions such as, “Do you think God was in the right to punish Adam and Eve for seeking knowledge?” I find it OK. I am not sure, however, how this would work in a country where many are passionate believers.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

        “Do you think God was in the right …?”

        That is not a question that would ever be asked in Kentucky. 8-(


  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Just more work for FFRF. Their work is never done. The dumbing down of education in America is alive and well. If your kids are too poor to get into private school where you get a full dose of this stuff then just move to the south.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Is there a difference in the degree of belief between North and South?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 11, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes. It’s like 2 Americas. In the South people will ask you what church you belong to as a matter of regular conversation. It’s just considered normal that you’re a Christian. I can’t even begin to explain how weird it is to non Americans. Canadians find the whole thing really surreal as do many northern Americans.

    Posted May 10, 2019 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,

    What do you think about humanist organizations who legally consider them selves as religions but do not do not have any theistic day to day practices like EHSC (Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago). One of their senior leaders told me they keep that as religion because they train and certify celebrants. What do you think? Humanists should be 501 c3 non profit only or they could be also 501c3 religion? My thinking is to be consistent with current ethics religion identity should not be used for true humanist organizations to just get the privilege of not filing 990 to irs. In my opinion EHSC is unethical even though they are progressive and I generally donate money to them.


    Bapu 312 758 7898 cell

  4. DrBrydon
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    They should make the syllabus rotating, and each semester change the topic to Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek/Roman, Hindu, Native American, and Pacific Islander religions as well as Christian. I would love to know how they students are graded, and I think that could be the nail in the coffin. If the exam question is, Did Jesus die for your sins? and “no” is an incorrect answer, then you have your Christian indoctrination. (Don’t know if that was in the article; Wapo doesn’t like me today.)

  5. Murali
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Katie’s thinking can be called into question as well.

    ‘I don’t get that people who are good people, genuinely good, nice people, have good intentions, but because they don’t believe in God, they’re doomed to hell. I can’t accept that. I cannot accept that.’

    Christians believe it to be true, so Katie’s not accepting is neither here nor there. The Christian belief may be manifest nonsense, but saying that you can’t accept it is not a reasonable objection.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      I’m not seeing the problem. She seems to be saying that this is an example of why she has trouble accepting Christianity. That this is one of the things that makes her doubt that Christianity is something she wants “to follow and believe.”

      She isn’t expressing doubt that Christians believe it and she isn’t saying that she believes in Christianity except for this aspect of it.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Perhaps she’s saying she sees no evidence for those Christian beliefs, and so can’t sign onto them.

      • Posted May 10, 2019 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        …or/and perhaps she is showing her awakening humanity, to this young women this seems blatantly unchristian and contravenes reason and empathy, all good people of no christian faith, go to hell.
        Maybe she is just realising that that is where the two trains of thought depart for their divergent destinations. There is hope. I am not saying christians’ have no humanity either, just in this case it’s to exclusive for her liking.

      • Murali
        Posted May 11, 2019 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        If that is what she is saying, then I have no issue with it. By saying that she sees no evidence for it, she is implicitly accepting that the statement is meaningful and that it is, in principle, possible to gather evidence for it.

        The meaning might be completely literary. For example, she could say that there is no evidence in the Christian bible to say that nonbelievers are doomed. By saying that she is not implying that the concept of hell has a physical meaning. She may say that there is no evidence to suggest that Arthur Bantry murdered the girl in the library. We may read the book to figure it out. However, it does not mean that Arthur Bantry was real.

        Talking about what’s true or false in religion is often a vacuous task.

    • Adam M.
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Well, I agree. Saying ‘I won’t accept it because it offends my sensibilities.’ is not a respectable argument. But then she’s only a kid, and being able to resist the pressure of parents and peers to blindly accept Christianity – and from a humanistic rather than purely rebellious standpoint – is still an encouraging sign.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        But she’s not responding to a respectable argument. She is responding to people who base their view of morality on their own feels. Her feelings to the contrary are every bit as relevant, and put the ball back in the believers’ court for an evidence based response if they have one.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      What if she said that she could not accept the prospect of Abraham gutting Isaac? (Or Job’s children being killed as part of some supernatural bet?) What alternative justification from her for her position would you accept?

      • Murali
        Posted May 11, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        My point is that it is not a question of acceptance. If a person holds a statement to be true, my saying that I can’t accept it is not a refutation of the truth value of the statement. She may show that it is false; she may say that she cannot determine its truth or falsity; or she may show that the statement is not sufficiently meaningful for such an analysis, which I think is the case for most religious statements.

        A Christian may say that God did not intend women to marry women. A person may respond saying that she cannot accept the fact that God wanted good, loving people to be unhappy. However, assuming that the Christian’s statement makes sense, not accepting it does not make it false.

        A Christian not accepting that the earth is billions of years old is not going change the fact that it is billions of years old.

        If Katie’s point is that the statement about good nonbelievers being doomed is meaningful, but she sees no evidence in its favour, then I have no objection to her position.

  6. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    “We see humility, a wise thing that could be applicable for us today. How many of us would like to be more humble about something?”

    “Mr. Steenbergen, I’d like to be humble about not claiming knowledge that I can’t justify.” “No, no, that’s not what I meant.”

  7. Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    So what exactly makes the founding of the Mormon religion bogus? Is there something specific or is it just because its founding was relatively recent, not giving anywhere near enough time for the founders to be seen as anything other than humans making shit up? I am totally not religious but I lived in Salt Lake City for three months and got a heavy dose of Mormonism. I kind of liked the role seagulls play in it and the “This is the place!” bit of the story.

    • docbill1351
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      What makes the Mormon “religion” bogus is that Joseph Smith invented the whole thing as a con. Smith came from a family of con artists and snake oil salesmen who divined for water and gold. He grifted people out of money by “seeding” gold on land, easily discovered (!) to cheat people out of investing. At that time, 1820-30’s, there was a huge interest in all things Egyptian. The Rosetta Stone had been decoded and people were fascinated by the mystical, especially Egyptian mystical.

      Smith told a fantastical story about a visitation by an angel, magic crystals and golden tablets, producing a manuscript, the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. He had a buyer for the manuscript, but the buyer smelled a rat, pretended to have lost the manuscript and asked Smith for another translation. Smith balked and sought other “marks” to sell his phony-baloney manuscript.

      Check out Wikipedia for a pretty good summary of the history of the fraud. So, the answer to your question is not that the Mormon fraud is recent, but that it’s well-documented. Why people believe in Mormon BS would be an exercise in why cults exist.

      • Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Didn’t Jesus and Mohammed do the same?

        • Murali
          Posted May 10, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Noooo! God sent a message to Mohammad, Jesus is God, but Joseph Smith is a fraud 🙂

        • docbill1351
          Posted May 10, 2019 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          Jesus didn’t write anything and whatever Mo did is not documented. So, no, it’s not the same thing. The book of mormon was written by Joseph Smith in 1830 and is totally fictional. The Book of Mormon – the Musical was written in 2011 and based mostly on fact. Ironic, isn’t it?

          • Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            I read recently right here on this website many suggesting that Jesus never existed. If we can consider that, isn’t that he did exist and was a con man just about as likely? I argue for consistency of human nature over the documentation of history, or the lack thereof.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted May 10, 2019 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

              Well, there’s a reasonably credible theory that there was a preacher (or preachers) named Jesus, and the Jesus story is a compilation of anecdotes about various Jesi.

              I wouldn’t be so bold as to say Jesus never existed; just ‘not as we know him’.

              A bit like the King Arthur legends are supposed to be.


          • Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            Jesus didn’t, even if he existed, but some others (notably Paul) did the job for him.

      • docbill1351
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

        Regardless, my comment on the Mormons stands.

  8. Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Katie needs to get out while she can! Such an alien culture! Give me your typical immigrant over this crap any day!

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I hear what you are saying but saying typical immigrant is a better choice is a typical over reaction

      • Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        You really want to analyze this? Sounds like you are continuing the over-reaction. I said it mostly in jest but I still stand by the sentiment.

        • Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:49 am | Permalink

          I don’t want to analyze it. My comment was also partly in jest and exaggeration. In reaction to your exaggeration.
          We have a problem with no easy solution.

          • Posted May 10, 2019 at 11:08 am | Permalink

            Yes, there are real immigration problems. However, it is not as bad as anti-immigration people like Trump say it is. And Trump is not doing anything to fix it. As we approach the 2020 election, he’s even less motivated to fix something which is so important to his base.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      I suppose, however, that typical immigrants are into the Jesus stuff themselves. (I mean immigrants to the USA, here it is even worse.)

  9. Roger
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    “As a Christian, I believe the Bible, it’s a living book — if God is a living God, he’s going to speak through his word every time you open up the Bible.

    Religion is like a “non-sequitur license”, except you don’t have to take a driving test for it. Or to put it in terms of Monopoly®, it’s like a free get out of thinking card.

  10. Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Reading the post is a depressing way to start the day. Not encouraging particularly to see Georgia as one of the state’s passing the laws.

    Ernest Harben

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      This was my thought as well: a depressing post.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    … there are the Mormons (with their completely bogus founding) …

    Well, it was certainly that, although probably no more bogus than the founding of many other religions, just not hidden away as deeply by the mists of time.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Exactly. That was my point too.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      As far as I can tell, Mormonism was founded as a *deliberate* fraud, like Scientology. As opposed to something wildly false, like Islam might have been (I don’t know) and Christianity (at least if Carrier and Doherty etc. are right) was.

      • Posted May 10, 2019 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        It’s an interesting comparison. I would love to see this battled out by the various factions to decide whose religion is more legitimate and less of a fraud. No violence of course, just heated debate.

  12. tr jackson
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    One for today: ” it’s okay to tech Bible classes….”

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I have a dream that someday the states of the former Confederacy (and certain Confederate-symp border states, like KY) will fully assimilate themselves back into the Union. Crazy, I know. Not in my lifetime, maybe, or in my children’s or in their children’s. But someday, the Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Two separate cultures, peoples and nations. Paul Topping just described the South in a comment above as an alien culture. I fon’t see any desire by either side to agree in anything.
      I read your comment yesterday I believe stating you would be happy to see three southern states leave the Union. Comments like that are decision and cause no desire to reunite. They voted to leave once and did, and were forced back in by invasion and war.

      By the way, the Creek don’t rise comes from a reference to the Creek Indians.
      The saying was “the good Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise.
      Native Americans object to the continued use of that strenuously.

      Ernest Harben

      • Posted May 10, 2019 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        Ok, they can stay in the Union as long as they don’t try to force everyone to adopt their religion.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        I cracked a joke yesterday, Ernest, about letting Mexico have three states, as long as we can pick which three to send them. I didn’t specify which three, or even whether they would be in the South.

        And your claim about the idiom “the creek don’t rise” being about the Creek Indians has been debunked.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        “By the way, the Creek don’t rise comes from a reference to the Creek Indians.
        The saying was “the good Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise.
        Native Americans object to the continued use of that strenuously.”

        News to me.

        Do Native Americans object to the use of “creek” to describe a small stream? Such small streams of water do rise after a rain. I’ve no doubt that there are a lot of “Mill Creek”s and “Middle Creek”s across the fruited plain. I take it that it’s still OK to use the words “stream” and “brook,” to which one might repair when inclined to “babble” a bit.

        • Posted May 10, 2019 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

          Interesting! The Wiktionary entry for this phrase ) claims that the original referred to small rivers and it was later changed to refer to the Creek Indians. I always assumed it referred to floods.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Do you think they teach the genocide approved by Yahweh, or the stoning of the guy who collected sticks on the Sabbath, or Lot’s offer to the mob to let them rape his daughters? I doubt it.

    Bet they teach the lesson of Elisha in 2 Kings 2:23-24, for whom the Lord sent forth two she-bears to tear the shit out of forty-two children who’d made fun of Elisha’s bald head.

    That one oughta keep the little bastards from back-talking their teachers in class.

  15. Posted May 10, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink


    I always find these cases sad, because they tend to take money from schools fighting the lawsuits, etc. I wish somehow that the teachers (and maybe administrators) could be required to pay back the money involved (and then some), but that never seems to happen.

  16. Curtis
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I am an atheist but I am great believer in religious studies when done properly. Religion is part of our culture and history and I believe it is important to understand it. I wish my children knew more about the Bible and religions.

    When I learned European history in high school, religion was properly a large part of it. I need to ask my son about how much religion is discussed in his AP US History.

    • Murali
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely. Even though I am not religious at all, I am interested in learning about religion.

      Who decides what to teach in US public schools?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        That’s a complicated question, and I’m no expert. But I think the short answer to your question is that there are certain national and statewide standards that schools are expected to meet, but that much of a school’s curriculum is set by a local school board. What appears in school textbooks is determined by private publishers, but they have an obvious economic incentive to gear their material to the national and statewide standards.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      I’m all for people developing religious literacy. I imagine religions are still touched upon in cursory, survey fashion (as they were in my day) in history and geography (or what once went under the rubric “social studies”) classes in American public schools.

      But given what a hot-button topic religion is in the US, dedicated “religious studies” classes in secondary school (or below) present a danger of sliding into prostylization. They are best deferred, I think, until students reach the university level, at least for the time being.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        I should think that the occasional bright, intellectually-curious high schooler could pick up a quality religious studies text at a bookstore, reading it on her/his own time, if her/his time is not already too much eaten up with course required reading, and the student burned out on reading. Of course, a lot of human primates are not intellectually-curious, and are content to do the minimum to get by in school and in their own private intellectual development.

        (I had a relative who hurled the “nose in a book” barb at me. She herself hardly ever touched a book. Exception: she bought several books related to the O.J. Simpson fiasco, with which she was preoccupied if not obsessed.)

      • Curtis
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think you can teach history without religion which means in elementary school. How can you teach early US history without talking about the Puritans? That requires teaching about the religion in New England and how it was different from the religion in other colonies.

        • Historian
          Posted May 10, 2019 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          Yes, it is impossible to teach U.S. history without discussing the role of religion in influencing it. How can this be otherwise when the country is one of the most religious in the world, consisting of many different faiths? As but one example of many, the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War was led by evangelical Christians. However, it is not very hard to teach the role of religion without endorsing in the least particular religious doctrines.

  17. Matt
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I thought it was spelled “Kentuky”?

    FFRF win near me (just outside Philly):

    • Filippo
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      An acquaintance who grew up in Pennsylvania said that the state was sometimes referred to as “Pennsyltucky.”

      • Matt
        Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        It’s true. Between Pittsburgh and Philly is deep Trump country.

        • Posted May 13, 2019 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          I lived in Pittsburgh for 2.5 years while at CMU. Someone (a rare PA native there) described it as PittsburghPhiladelphia. (Note for our friends from further away: that includes the state capital in the “Alabama” section.)

  18. Murali
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what the reaction would to a class about a different religion. Has someone tried that?

    • Murali
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      What do you think would happen if someone taught a class like ‘The Bible: A critical approach’? What do you would happen if, in this class, the Bible were analyzed as a historical text in the way a modern scholar would?

  19. Robert S.
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I credit my 10th grade, DC public school Comparative Religion course as one of many tools leading me out of Christianity.

    If anything, the class put way too positive a spin on *every* religion, dancing around negative, problematic beliefs. But I took it to force myself to evaluate “Why do they (Hindus, Muslims, etc.) believe this, and how do I know I’m right instead of them?”. It was a teenage’d Outsider Test. It was effective!

    What this Steenbergen guy is doing is un-American. Time to verify that my FFRF membership is current and adequate.

    • Greg Geisler
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Bravo! That is exactly the course we need in public schools. I’m shocked that it was actually allowed. Must have been a very progressive school board. The problem with teaching religion is that it only focuses on the doctrine and dogma. Instead, the focus should be on the origins (the where, why, and how) of the religion. If students were exposed to honest and rigorous scholarship (like Carrier’s books Not the Impossible Faith or On the Historicity of Jesus) it would go a long way toward stimulating critical thinking in students. And the result would be far fewer believers.

    • Posted May 13, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      That’s what my high school “Moral and Religious Education” classes were like in Quebec in the then nominally Protestant and English school. This was the early and mid 1990s so a lot has changed.

      • Zetopan
        Posted May 13, 2019 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        @Keith: “Moral and Religious Education”

        Shouldn’t that “and” be an “exclusive or”?

  20. Steve Pollard
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes, when I am feeling grumpy, I think that people who deny science should be forbidden the benefits of science. “Don’t believe in evolution? No antibiotics for you!” Or “Think the earth is flat? Hand over your mobile at once!”

    But I’m not always grumpy. And nor are the dedicated people who are keeping up the fight to give our kids a proper education. The truth is always more interesting and convincing than fiction.

    • Posted May 10, 2019 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      When people try to push Jesus down my throat, I sometimes mention that unlike Jesus, an antibiotic will save people regardless of whether they believe/love it or not.

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Make them study the bible only in Koine Greek.

  22. grasshopper
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    There will be exams, right?

    Q1. In five words or less write about the glory of the Koran.

    Q2. Praise Jesus in no fewer than fifty foolscap pages.

    Q3. Is “Blessed are the cheesemakers” meant to be taken literally?

    Q4. Does Jesus really love paedophile priests?

    Marks will be deducted if your parents are not people of an approved faith.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 10, 2019 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      “Q1. In five words or less write about the glory of the Koran.

      Q2. Praise Jesus in no fewer than fifty foolscap pages.”

      That would turn me into an instant Muslim! 🙂


    • Posted May 11, 2019 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      “In five words or less write about the glory of the Koran.”

      Mohammad (peace be upon him).

      Would that suffice?


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 11, 2019 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Marks will be deducted if your parents are not people of an approved faith.

      ALL marks will be deduced if you don’t know who your parents are. Their sin will be visited upon you and any descendants you choose to have, unto the 7th generation.
      Give me that Old Time Religion!

  23. Murali
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    >Does Jesus really love paedophile priests?

    I suppose he does. The chap loves everyone. In any case there is absolutely no chance of my meeting him. My soul is for the fire.

  24. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    The effect of this probably depends on the surrounding culture. In a Goddy environment it could be catastrophic.

    In the early 60’s I had Religious Instruction classes at a grammar school in England. As I recall these were only Bible-based (not comparative religion). I don’t think they had any effect on the kids, other than to arouse our scepticism and mild resentment at having our time wasted, and the teacher was (a) probably an agnostic at least and (b) probably drew the short straw. I don’t think the subject was in the end-of-year exams. I tend to agree with Stephen Fry’s thesis that the Church of England is probably quite a good inoculation against religion, as cowpox was against smallpox.

    One could only wish those Kentucky bible classes would have the same effect, but unfortunately it seems those kids are already primed to believe it.


    • Posted May 13, 2019 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      It would also be more potentially educational if one had large religious diversity in the first place.

  25. eric
    Posted May 10, 2019 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Honestly I don’t think the legal efforts are much connected to the classes. Rather, they’re just virtue signaling from politicians in order to improve reelection changes. Elective Bible-as-literature classes have always been legal, and conservative schools have always gone beyond the boundary of “as literature” when they can. So a politician passing a law saying the state is now allowed to have bible classes is simply tribal signaling.

    It’s annoying. It’s damaging. And hopefully legal challenges in local cases can stop those local cases of abuse. But it’s also not going to go away if/when politicians stop passing laws promoting bible classes, because the illegal acts were never strongly correlated with them to begin with (at least IMO).

    I’d bet the GPS coordinates of a school are far more predictive of the presence of illegal religious schooling than whether that county or state has a ‘bible okay to teach’ law.

  26. Posted May 15, 2019 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Sounds like Katie has a good head on her shoulders!

    I am from Georgia and religion was pushed on me from an early age. I know my parents were only doing what they thought was right, but that shit still has me messed up at the age of 35.

    Luckily, I decided that the things I was being taught weren’t adding up and I attempted to translate the New Testament for myself in my twenties using a Greek Interlinear Bible and a Strong’s Concordance. It was a very hard time for me because I was scared I was going to burn in hell because I no longer believed in the message I had been taught all my life. I do actually believe in a God, just not an old man sitting in the sky waiting to judge me. But that’s another story for another day.

    I think it would have been much healthier if I was instead taught to love MYSELF. And in discovering myself, I could have determined my own beliefs and become a stronger person for having done so. At the very core of most religions is The Golden Rule – love others and you would like to be loved. But how can anyone love another if they don’t even know how to love their self?

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