Bible Brouhaha: Idaho Activist Wants (His) Religion In Public Schools

A 77-year-old retired public school teacher is fighting for the Bible to be taught in Idaho's schools, according to a report in the Idaho Press-Tribune.

Chuck Sheldon, founder and executive director of the group Our Godly American Heritage, claims he wants to see an academic course on the Bible to be taught as an elective. He believes the Idaho Constitution's provision stating that "no sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools" has been standing in his way.

"The people of Idaho are not going to put up with the fact their Constitution does not allow them to do it," he told the Idaho Press-Tribune. "It's a book and can be taught without getting involved with devotional or religious rhetoric."

Sheldon has decided to collect signatures for this initiative, which he believes would allow schools to get around this provision and teach an academic Bible course. So far, he has collected 20 of the 51, 712 signatures he needs to place the initiative on the ballot.

If all Sheldon wants is for Idaho schools to teach an academic Bible course, he's wasting his time. Courts have already ruled that courses on the Bible may be taught in public schools so long as they are academic in nature, neutral and objective. We're sure, as a leader of a group advocating public school Bible curriculum, he already knows that.

Which leads us to assume Sheldon has a larger agenda.

On his group's Web site, they claim the "Founding Fathers created a nation under God" and that their mission is to "re-establish Bible education within our public schools." The group also believes that "the 1962 Supreme Court decision to remove Biblical teaching within our public schools is unconstitutional." (Actually, in 1962 the court said in Engel v. Vitale that government-sponsored prayer, not Bible reading, is unconstitutional in public schools.)

In addition to the mission statement, the group's Web site contains several other misleading statements and historical inaccuracies, including the claim that "George Washington and the other Founding Fathers of our nation have made it very clear that our nation cannot survive without the Bible as the foundation of all areas (education, law, government, the market place, media, Wall Street, etc.)."

Fortunately, many in Idaho are calling Sheldon out on his true intentions.

"The proponents of this scheme are really seeking to indoctrinate children with one-sided, fundamentalist Christian dogma," Humanist of Idaho President Paul Rolig told the Idaho Press-Tribune.

Sheldon's group relies on information from the National Council On Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS). Despite the NCBCPS' claim that their "program is concerned with education rather than indoctrination," a Florida district court struck down the curriculum as unconstitutional more than 10 years ago.

According to Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, NCBCPS's curriculum "reflects a bias towards conservative Protestant perspectives of the Bible at the expense of other perspectives. Basically, this course promotes certain religious views over all others."

Regardless of Sheldon's attempts to skirt the separation of church and state, we're confident he won't succeed. His 20 signatures so far (only 51,692 to go!) can't change the First Amendment, which clearly prohibits public school Bible courses that proselytize and push a narrow religious viewpoint.

For his own sake, we hope he stops this charade.