By Joe McLean
JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (KMOV) — Among the bills on Gov. Mike Parson’s desk to be signed into law is Senate Bill 34, which carves out specific permission for public schools and charters to offer elective social studies courses on “the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament and the New Testament.”
“To focus on the historical, political and cultural impact and the literary style from the text of the old and new testament eras including Hebrew scriptures,” said the bill’s sponsor State Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis County.
Calls and messages to Sen. May’s office went unreturned by publication time.
No current state or federal law was preventing a school from offering a class as described in May’s bill.
“It’s always been legal, at least since 1963, to teach the bible in a public school,” said Dr. Leslie Baynes, an associate professor of Religious Studies at Missouri State University.
Here, Baynes is referring to the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Abington School District v. Schempp, in which the court ruled that mandated prayer or scripture reading at school violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause, – but also, “that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education” would not.
The bill also prevents schools from dictating which of the hundreds of versions – or translations – of the Bible a student uses for their respective class.
Baynes predicts that provision will create a lot of confusion for any school that does choose to offer such a class.
“The Bible isn’t written in English,” Baynes said. “It’s written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. So, everyone who is reading it in English is reading it in translation – and there are many different translations.”
Many of those translations were made with the intention of advancing a particular viewpoint or doctrine, Baynes added. “A lot of it is going to depend on the teacher, the teacher’s viewpoint, the teacher’s preparation and the teacher’s education.”
Baynes said she would recommend school districts require any class on the Bible require a teacher who has a degree or certification in religious studies – or a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.
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