Religious Liberty
An American Heritage

Warning Sounded about Bible Course

The Hernando County School Board received a warning to be careful as it considers adding a high school course on the Bible from People for the American Way, a Washington-based foundation that has been involved in several legal battles over Bible classes in public schools.

The organization cautions the board that "while students in a public school may be taught about the Bible, they cannot be taught the Bible," in a letter dated October 19, 2000.

As an alternative to school board member Jerry Milby's suggestion for a course that focuses solely on the Bible, People for the American Way suggest that the district consider a course on comparative religion.

The legal director for People for the American Way and his deputy who are the authors of the letter mention that they were the legal counsel in a lawsuit against the Lee County public schools in Fort Myers when that district tried to establish an "unconstitutional" Bible course.

"We trust that the Hernando County School Board will not repeat the mistakes made in Lee County," concluded the letter.

To "raise the consciousness of God" in students, Milby proposed elective Bible courses in Hernando County's high schools in October. However, someone else will have to shepherd this idea. Milby is not seeking re-election to a term that ends this month. In February or March, the school board's annual review of class change will occur. Since he had felt a recent "conviction" to do so, Milby said he made the pitch anyway.

However, Robert Wiggins, a fellow school board member, said that he considers the opposition from People for the American Way to be a "friendly reminder to be careful how you teach this Bible class, to not step over any Constitutional lines in the sand," even though Wiggins strongly supported Milby's proposal. Wiggins said, "Even while I probably stand on opposite ends of the spectrum with People for the American Way, I do appreciate their perspective. I think they are just trying to tell us not to cross the line." The only board member to advocate a course that teaches the Bible as a historical document other than Milby is Wiggins. However, Wiggins said he might have to compromise and accept what he refers to as his second choice — a course on comparative religion — as he comes to terms with political reality.

School districts in Florida and Mississippi have already been taken to court over Bible-curriculum cases by People for the American Way.

State Departments of Education in Georgia, Tennessee and Florida have already been successful in blocking Bible-related courses in local school districts.

In response to a study by People for the American Way that decried the Bible course in 14 counties as unconstitutional, the Florida Department of Education altered the way Bible electives can be taught.

As a result, the course can be studied only as literature under the umbrella of humanities. The courses were under history previously.

(Robert King, "Bible course warning sounded." People for the American Way urges caution as the School Board considers elective classes in county high schools," St. Petersburg Times, October 20, 2000)

Forward to Next Religious Liberty Report