Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Are sacred texts "all-or-nothing" in public schools?

Mike G. Gaither at libertyWatch has been asking some questions regarding Odessa and church-state relations.

As a matter of law, public schools may constitutionally teach Bible courses, as this opinion demonstrates:
[I]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. (Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)).
Note that the study of the Bible (either on its own or as part of a general discussion of religion) is specifically approved here. The Abington precedent has been cited as allowing the Bible to be studied for literary and historic qualities in later Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Epperson v. Arkansas, 1968 and Stone v. Graham, 1980). Mike asserts: "The Supreme Court (the folks we hire to interpret the Constitution) has ruled fairly consistently the government (i.e. public schools) cannot endorse one religion over another. A class teaching the Koran (Quoran) with no other classes teaching the texts of other religions available, would be just as biased and unlawful." There is much in the existing jurisprudence that is not based in the text, legislative history, or intent of the Constitution, but even the Court has ruled in these cases that mere teaching of the Bible as literature or history does not in and of itself constitute an establishment of religion. Is there a SCOTUS precedent that requires schools to teach the Koran as literature if the Bible is taught as literature? If so, is there a mandate to the Bhagavad Gita be taught as literature/history? What about L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics -- must that be taught as literature/history?
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