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Education Reporter

Texas School District is Sued over Elective Bible Course

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The American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way sued the Ector County Independent School District over offering high school electives in New and Old Testament-era history and literature. The advocacy groups sued on behalf of eight parents who claim that the Bible electives violate their religious liberty. The lawsuit comes just as the Texas Legislature has passed a bill pertaining to Bible electives.

In 2005, the Ector County School Board approved the Bible electives it now offers, and chose the curriculum developed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), which has been adopted in 395 school districts in 37 states (seeEducation Reporter, Jan. '06, Jan. '07). Although the curriculum is designed to be taught in a way that neither encourages nor discourages religious belief, the director of the ACLU of Texas called the course "basically a Sunday school class within the walls of a public school."

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute, disagrees. "There is no question that these Bible electives are constitutional. The United States Supreme Court has stated more than once that teaching about the Bible is not only constitutional, but essential to a quality education. This lawsuit is a loser," he told the Houston Chronicle (5-16-07).

The Texas bill on Bible literacy originally would have required all public school districts to offer Bible electives if 15 or more students wished to take them. It also would have left curriculum decisions up to local school districts. However, following several amendments, the bill now requires the Texas Attorney General to sign off on a curriculum, and requires all courses to use a book other than the Bible as the primary textbook - which may rule out the popular NCBCPS curriculum.

South Carolina moved quickly over the past legislative session toward establishing state standards for courses on the Bible's history and literature, with legislation based on similar recent efforts in Georgia. Several other states have also recently considered new laws authorizing elective courses on the Bible.

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