GOP delegates have crafted a Republican Party platform that contains a provision encouraging state legislatures to allow their public high schools to teach the Bible. The issue could steer the party toward violating the separation of church and state.
July 11 and 12, GOP delegates hashed out the party platform in Cleveland, Ohio. The emerging document signaled a party shift even further toward the conservative right, according to The New York Times.
The platform currently contains positions such as encouraging sexual relations to occur only within a heterosexual marriage, condemning pornography as a public health crisis, and promoting elective classes dissecting the Bible in public schools.
GOP delegate Tony Perkins of Louisiana, who is also the president of the conservative group Family Research Council, vocally supported the Bible provision but disagreed that it would push religious beliefs on students.
“This is not deigned to teach religion in the schools as a means of proselytizing,” Perkins told The Washington Post. “You can’t really fully understand the American form of government and society without some understanding of the Bible.”
Teaching a specific religious belief in public schools is illegal, but teaching books such as the Bible as a historical artifact is allowed and practiced in states such as Texas.
Staff attorney Andrew Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation stated that his watchdog organization has seen the academic teaching of the Bible tumble down a slippery slope.
“If the public schools can teach it appropriately that’s fine, but it’s dangerous territory,” Seidel said. “The problem we see is we often see teachers who don’t teach it in an objective or critical standpoint. They teach it from a Sunday school standpoint.”
Professor of Religious Studies Mark Chancey of the Southern Methodist University, who belongs to the Texas Freedom Network, studied the curriculum of Texas districts teaching the Bible and found a large number of teachers crossing the line.
“Unfortunately, a fair number of courses are blatantly and thoroughly sectarian, presenting religious views as fact and implicitly or explicitly encourage students to adopt those views,” Chancey said.
Ultimately, the provision added to the GOP platform stated: “A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage State Legislatures to offer the Bible as literature curriculum in America’s high schools.”
In an op-ed, National Review writer Jim Geraghty dismissed the controversy over whether or not this provision would lead to Republicans encouraging laws that violate the separation of church and state, stating the party platforms rarely translate into actual laws.
“Getting an idea mentioned in the platform doesn’t even guarantee that any member of the party will introduce the idea as legislation in the following year,” said Geraghty, adding that platform provisions are “the political equivalent of fantasy football, an activist’s participation trophy.”