Oklahoma's Own In Focus: Bibles In Schools

In The Oklahoma State Board of Education's Thursday meeting State Superintendent Ryan Walters announced that every teacher and classroom will be required to have a Bible and teach from it.

Thursday, June 27th 2024, 10:05 pm

By: News 9, Matt McCabe


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State Superintendent Ryan Walters began the State Board of Education Meeting Thursday by outlining some of the topics for the June 27 meeting including the recent state Supreme Court ruling against a state-funded and established religious charter school, St. Isidore.

The ruling stated that under Oklahoma law, a charter school is a public school, meaning it must be nonsectarian. As such the state's establishment of a religious charter school "violates Oklahoma statutes, the Oklahoma Constitution, and the Establishment Clause."

Walters called it one of the worst decisions that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has made and promised to take the case to a high court if possible.

"Earlier in the week, the Supreme Court has made some horrendous decisions. This is one of the worst. What the court did was rule against the parents of Oklahoma who have demanded more choices for their kids, we have a great opportunity to make sure that parents have the most options of any parents in the country here in Oklahoma, by giving them the ability to go to a public school, charter schools, private schools, this would have been the most unique charter school in the country. So I want you all to know, that we will continue to fight back against this, we want to continue to provide an opportunity for parents to send their kids to high-quality schools.
To be clear, it's this is an argument that is based on a myth. On a lie. You’re not going to find the separation of church and state in the Constitution. It’s not there. You’re not going to see the founders describe religion in this way. But what you are seeing is a court that lacks an understanding of the Constitution. And we are prepared to challenge this all the way to the US Supreme Court to make sure that religious liberty is protected in the state of Oklahoma and that parents have all options available," said Walters.

It should be noted that while the phrase "separation of church and state" may not appear in the Oklahoma constitution, Article 2, section 5 states;

"No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such."

Related to the Supreme Court decision, Walters announced on Thursday that every teacher and classroom will be required to have a Bible and that he would be issuing a memo to every school district in Oklahoma about the decision. Walters cited a state statute regarding historical documents, claiming the Bible is a document that has significance to historical events as well as the foundation of America.

"The last is, we’re going to make an important announcement today regarding the bible and the Ten Commandments. My staff has been looking at Oklahoma statute, we’ve been looking at Oklahoma Academic standards. And it’s crystal clear to us that in the Oklahoma academic standards under Title 70 on multiple occasions, the bible is a necessary historical document to teach our kids about the history of this country, to have a complete understanding of western civilization, understand the basis of our legal system, and frankly talking about the bible one of the most foundational documents used for the constitution and the birth of our country. We also find major points in history that refer to the bible, reference the bible.
We see multiple figures whether we’re talking about the Federalist Papers, constitutional conventional arguments, and Martin Luther King Jr who used it as a tremendous impetus for the civil rights movement and tied many of those arguments back to the bible. It is essential that our kids have an understanding of the bible and its historical context. So we will be issuing a memo today that every school district will adhere to, which is that every teacher, every classroom in the state, will have a bible in the classroom and will be teaching from the bible in the classroom to ensure that this historical understanding is there for every student in the state of Oklahoma in accordance with our academic standards and state law. “

Monica Hiller, a fifth grade teacher in the metro said, "It just doesn't seem to me that having a Bible as a textbook does anything to support the 5th grade standards that we have [...] It's starting to really, really hurt our students."

Erin Brewer, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Advocacy Coalition said, "What I don't need help with from Ryan Walters is training my children up in the faith of my choosing [...] What I do need him to do is make sure my kids have caring, qualified teachers in their classroom and that our schools have the resources to support our students so that they can achieve."

Statements Following Walter's Announcement

According to the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, the Bible is already allowed to be in school classrooms. The Bible was included as an instructional support tool in May of 2019 under the social studies academic standards.

“Oklahoma law already explicitly allows Bibles in the classroom and enables teachers to use them in instruction,” said a representative from the AG's office.

In a follow-up statement, ODSE's Communications Director stated that per the memorandum all Oklahoma schools would be not only enabled but required to incorporate the Bible and the Ten Commandments, as instructional support into the curriculum across specified grade levels. They said the directive is in alignment with the educational standards approved on or about May 2019, with which all districts must comply. They added that the State Department of Education may supply teaching materials for the Bible, as permissible, to ensure uniformity in delivery.

The Oklahoma Education Association released the following statement:

 "The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently decided that school districts have the right to choose which books are available in their libraries and classrooms. A memo from the State Department of Education does not change that ruling.
 Teaching about the historical context of religion (and the Bible) is permissible; however, teaching religious doctrine is not permissible. Public schools cannot indoctrinate students with a particular religious belief or religious curriculum.
 The State Superintendent cannot usurp local control and compel education professionals to violate the Constitution."

Oklahoma State Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) and Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa) addressed the announcement on Thursday and encouraged school districts to review existing state law before implementing the State Superintendent's directive.

“Following this new directive from the State Superintendent of Education, we advise school districts to carefully review and follow existing state law when it comes to religious instruction in schools,” Provenzano said.

“We know from the outcome of SQ 790 that Oklahomans are overwhelmingly against using public dollars to fund religious purposes. The Oklahoma Constitution is very clear on what is allowed when it comes to public education. 

"Religious instruction should begin with and remain in the rightful hands of parents and guardians. Today’s directive feels like an unprecedented attempt from the State Superintendent to distract from the reported investigations into financial mismanagement of tax dollars meant to support our schools.”

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, effective immediately, all Oklahoma school districts are required to incorporate the bible as instructional support in the curriculum throughout certain grade levels.

“The Superintendent should focus on running his department, not issuing ridiculous directives that are unconstitutional and don’t do anything to advance the goals he claims to be setting for Oklahoma public schools,” Waldron said.

The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) also issued a statement calling the directive a “clear violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause.”

“Although we and the American Muslim community recognize the important historical and religious significance of the Bible, forcing teachers to use it and only it in their curriculum is inappropriate and unconstitutional.
“We adamantly oppose any requirements that religion be forcefully taught or required as a part of lesson plans in public schools, in Oklahoma, or anywhere else in the country. As the Constitution outlines, religious freedom allows for the academic instruction of religion in subjects such as geography, social studies, and history.
“To require religious scripture, regardless of which one it may be, to be incorporated into lessons in our schools, however, is a clear violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause and infringes on the rights of our students and their families.
“Ryan Walters should reconsider his actions of using his position and influence to promote what appears to be a personal Christian Nationalist agenda, as it does not contribute to the advancement of our children’s education.” - CAIR Oklahoma
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