Missouri state Representative Ben Baker is a Republican minister and a former dean of students at Ozark Bible Institute in Neosho, Missouri. He has recently introduced a bill in the state legislature that would require Missouri state education officials to develop guidelines and standards for teaching Bible classes in public schools.
It is important to note that the bill does not mandate that schools must teach Bible classes. Such courses would be simply classified as electives.
The bill does say, however, “Officials at the department of elementary and secondary education shall convene a work group to develop and recommend academic performance standards relating to courses offered under this section.”
In other words, government employees would be required by law to create an official framework for the express purpose of facilitating the teaching of the Bible to students in public schools.
Thomas Jefferson, the namesake of our state capital and a founding father of our great nation, would be adamantly opposed to this ill-conceived piece of legislation. In his letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association in 1802, the third president of the United States wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Make no mistake, teaching Bible classes in schools is a form of religious indoctrination. A law requiring governmental facilitation of religious indoctrination in public schools or anywhere else is a direct violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“As a small business owner, I understand firsthand the challenges of government overreach and unnecessary regulation,” Representative Baker is quoted as saying on his campaign’s website. If passing laws that require state entities to develop educational standards for teaching Bible classes in public schools isn’t government overreach, then I don’t know what is. Furthermore, when discussing world religions, schools can mention the Bible and the texts of other religions in public schools under current laws. The proposed new regulations are therefore quite unnecessary.
Baker’s bill also contains the following passage: “The department of elementary and secondary education and school districts, in complying with this section, shall not violate any provision of the Constitution of the United States…” Well Mr. Baker, unless you also mandate that DESE develops and recommends academic performance standards for elective courses on texts from the world’s other major religions such as the Vedas of Hinduism, the original sutras of the Buddha, the Tao Te Ching of Taoism, and of course the Quran of Islam, then Missouri’s establishment of the Judeo-Christian Old and New Testaments as the only religious books legally allowed to be taught in public schools would certainly be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Supporters of the bill say they are only interested in teaching the Bible for its historical significance. Ashland’s own State Representative Sara Walsh said, “We’re focusing on history. This is so important for students to learn.”
Thomas Jefferson would have taken issue with this argument as well. Jefferson believed in God, and he also believed that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. However, he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, nor did he believe any of the tales in the Bible of the miracles that he allegedly performed.
Jefferson cut up four Bibles, discarding any references to a supernatural Jesus, and then pasted together a revised volume that was devoid of any mention of miracles, the Trinity, or the Immaculate Conception. Jefferson’s Bible stands a much better chance of being viewed as an historical text than the King James Version, though I doubt Baker or Walsh would be willing to allow it to be taught in schools.
House Bill 267 is a perfect example of governmental overreach and unnecessary regulations. If it passes, it will also be a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars spent defending the unconstitutional law in the nation’s courts. More importantly, Baker’s bill is an attempt by a religious zealot to use state resources to promote one religion over all others.
On his website, Mr. Baker says, “The Second Amendment is an integral part of who I am, and the defense of our personal liberties requires constant vigilance.” It’s a shame that he does not hold the First Amendment in such high regard.