It is back to school time in the Commonwealth, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (ACLU-KY) is reminding students and parents of their constitutional rights when taking elective “Bible Literacy” courses in Kentucky’s public schools.
Last school year, an ACLU-KY Open Records Act Investigation uncovered public school teachers using the Bible to impart religious life lessons (Barren, McCracken, and Letcher Counties), the use of online Sunday School lessons and worksheets for course source material (Letcher and Wayne Counties), and assignments and rote memorization of Biblical text (Letcher, Wayne, Whitley, and Lewis Counties), practices which fall far short of constitutionally-permissive academic and objective study of the Bible and its historical context or literary value.
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has since released draft academic standards for these elective courses. The document points out, “The standards address what is be learned but do not address how learning experiences are to be designed or what resources should be used.” It remains the responsibility of local school districts to implement courses that fall within constitutional strictures, which require any use of religious text in the classroom to be secular, objective, nondevotional, and must not promote any specific religious view.
“Our investigation of ‘Bible Literacy’ courses demonstrated the need for clear, concise, and controlled guidance for teachers in addition to a plan for monitoring these courses,” said ACLU-KY attorney Heather Gatnarek. “Unfortunately, the draft standards from KDE fall short of what is needed to help districts with the difficult task of implementing a constitutionally sound course focused on one religious text. Without more specific guidance, we fear some classrooms will once again be filled with preaching, not teaching.”
The ACLU-KY reminds students and parents that “Bible Literacy” courses may not promote religion or a particular religious viewpoint, test students on matters of religious faith, nor be designed to instill religious life lessons. Religious education is best left to parents and churches, not school or government. Families that believe their rights may have been violated are encouraged to keep copies of questionable course materials and assignments and to file a request for legal assistance with the ACLU of Kentucky.