New Articles About Texas Legislature
Approval of the Bible History Course
Compiled by Texas Citizens for Science
2007 May 25
Panel advances Bible bill as classes made optional
Web Posted: 04/20/2007
AUSTIN -- Legislation designed to expand the teaching of the Bible in more public high schools unanimously cleared the House Public Education Committee Thursday with major changes to satisfy critics.
Instead of requiring Texas high schools to offer the Bible as history and literature, lawmakers amended the bill to make the course optional.
Districts can offer Bible courses now as electives, but only 25 do so. Some lawmakers feel this measure would increase interest and add validity if such classes were challenged in court.
The new version also establishes teacher training qualifications and requirements for curriculum standards. And it insists that the course maintain religious neutrality.
State Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, would not have supported the bill without the stricter standards.
"You won't put yourself into a position of 1,030 districts plus charter schools all out trying to develop what is truly a very sensitive and difficult course to develop," said Hochberg, who is Jewish. "There's nothing that I know that touches deeper into a person's heart than their religious beliefs."
House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, is pushing House Bill 1287 as a way to expose students to Scripture and its impact on society.
"I just think it's great to have it and great to study it. Whether you believe it or not is up to you," Chisum, a practicing Baptist, said recently. "And as long as we don't preach it to you, you don't have to tell us whether you believe it or not."
Chisum did not attend the hearing when colleagues dramatically altered his bill. Neither he nor his staff returned a call for comment Thursday.
More school districts will offer the course if the Legislature elevates its stature, said Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.
"It legitimizes this at the courthouse so that no school district should be afraid to offer it," Eissler said.
Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Texas Freedom Network opposed Chisum's original bill.
"I think the committee got the message that families and churches don't want the government to tell our children what to believe about the Bible," Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said after the 6-0 vote for the bill.
The bill does not yet have a Senate sponsor.
Bible Bill - Texas Legislature
CBS 7 News
April 26, 2007
A proposed bill in the Texas House could change the Bible based elective in 25 public schools in Texas including Ector County. The bill first began to reinforce the curriculum such as that offered in Odessa schools. Representative Buddy West co-authored the original Bible bill in the House of Representatives. But an education committee has turned its entire meaning around and the fight is on. Religious freedom is a corner stone of our constitution.
But, one educator says using the King James Bible as the basis for the Ector School District's Bible course would endorse one religion over another. Dr. Steve Jenkins says, "...you would get the Protestant version say over the Catholic version or the book of Mormon so it would be a very narrow perspective. Odessa Representative Buddy West has co-authored a House bill much like the Bible curriculum in Ector schools. West says, "...but it's not going to be one of those that comes in and teaches the Catholic philosophy, the Baptists, the Methodist, the Church of Christ whatever, you know." UTPB professor Dr. Steve Jenkins says teaching the Bible based class sends a message from teachers to students. Jenkins says teachers are in essence endorsing the text book and literature of a protestant faith. A House Education Committee gutted the Chisum/WEST Bible bill.
The amendments added would put control of Bible curriculum under the Texas Education Association and curriculum would not be chosen locally. Teachers would undergo first amendment training. Courses could include numerous religions. Meanwhile, there are rumors that the American Civil Liberties Union plans to take Bible based programs to federal court, maybe Ector County's. Representative West says, "...I don't think they have any legs to stand on and they think they do...if it comes to that we'll just have to see about it." West's co-author of his Bible bill told CBS 7 News quote, "...we'll take the revised Bible curriculum bill down before we destroy those already in place in 25 schools around the state." Ector County's school district is among those schools.
House OKs bill giving schools option of Bible classes
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
AUSTIN – The House on Tuesday gave overwhelming preliminary approval to a bill giving Texas public high schools the option to offer elective, academic Bible classes – rejecting a last-ditch effort by the measure's author to force school districts to provide the courses.
The bill Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, originally filed would've required high schools to offer elective classes on the Old and New Testaments if more than 15 students were interested.
But the amended version endorsed unanimously on the floor Tuesday left offering the classes up to school boards and put other provisions in place – from rules on teacher qualifications to a requirement that the classes use a textbook, not just the Bible.
The point of those amendments was to ensure that the classes are academic, not religious, and that religious freedom in schools isn't compromised.
"There is a certain danger in teaching Scripture, that some people may seize upon it as an opportunity to be evangelical, to convert people," said Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita. But "there are countless, countless references, in Faulkner and whoever you're reading, to references in Scripture."
Lawmakers in favor of teaching the Bible say it isn't about faith – it's about giving students the historical and literary context to understand references to it in other works.
They said offering the classes as electives doesn't violate anyone's freedom of religion.
But some lawmakers questioned whether teachers would be able to draw the line between education and evangelism – which could infringe on students' rights.
"If somebody uses it to teach, that's one thing," said Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston. "If somebody uses it to proselytize, that's another."
And there's nothing that stops high schools from teaching the Bible as literature, or other comparative religion classes. Twenty-five Texas high schools already offer Bible courses, and Rep. Garnet Coleman asked why those couldn't become comparative religion courses.
"Why not have a course where you study the Quran, the Bible, the Buddhist texts, in the context they have in the rich history and culture of this world?" asked Mr. Coleman, D-Houston.
Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said his board had heard testimony on this bill three times.
"The House does not have to be divided over the Bible or over religion," he said. "The bill, as amended, will pass both houses."
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which works to keep the influence of religion out of government, said her organization was pleased with the outcome of Tuesday's vote.
"Public schools are not Sunday schools," she said. "The safeguards in this bill protect the rights of family and clergy, not the government, to tell our schoolchildren what to believe about the Bible."
Bible-course bill advances
By R.A. DYER
Star-Telegram staff writer
Wed, May. 09, 2007
AUSTIN -- The state would establish new training qualifications for teachers of Bible courses in public schools under legislation given preliminary approval Tuesday by the state House of Representatives.
The legislation, House Bill 1287, by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, also clarifies that any such courses must remain religiously neutral.
Current law allows school districts to teach Bible courses as electives, and 25 districts of more than 1,000 in Texas do so.
Chisum attempted to amend the bill to mandate that districts offer Bible courses in high school, rather than making it optional. But lawmakers voted down his amendment 79-59.
Arguing against the amendment, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, noted that the bill emerged from a House committee as the product of careful negotiations.
"This was a very challenging bill to work on, because there is nothing that I can think of that affects your insides more than your belief in the Almighty," Hochberg said.
Hochberg also noted that Chisum's amendment, as written, would have amounted to an unfunded mandate because it did not include money for districts to buy textbooks for the courses.
The Bible itself would be the textbook, Chisum said.
"We don't need the State Board [of Education] to select our textbook," he said. "We already have one."
After losing the vote on his amendment, Chisum voted to give preliminary approval to the bill.
The version adopted also includes requirements for establishing state curriculum standards and for adopting textbooks.
The legislation explicitly states that teachers may not endorse, promote or disfavor any religious or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.
Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network president, applauded the House's action.
"Public schools are not Sunday schools, and most people get nervous when government gets too involved in religion," said Miller, whose organization opposes the political influence of religious conservatives.
The House must give the bill final approval before it can be sent to the Senate for further consideration.
R.A. Dyer, 512-476-4294
Texas House OKs Elective Courses on the Bible in Public Schools
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas schools would be able to offer elective courses on the Bible under legislation tentatively adopted Tuesday in the House.
The measure, which was approved by a voice vote, was a watered-down version of Republican Rep. Warren Chisum's original proposal. That plan would have required Bible courses to be taught as an elective in all Texas high schools rather than making it optional.
The House is expected to give final approval to the measure Wednesday. It then moves to the Senate for consideration.
The class would focus on the history and literature of the Bible, rather than proselytizing, Chisum said.
According to a legislative analysis of the measure, "the purpose of the course would be to teach students biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy."
A study by the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network last year identified 25 high schools in the state already offering such courses and said that many have serious problems.
Kathy Miller, the group's president, applauded the House for including safeguards, such as teacher training requirements.
"Public schools are not Sunday schools, and most people get nervous when government gets too involved in religion," Miller said. "The safeguards in this bill protect the right of families and clergy, not the government, to tell our schoolchildren what to believe about the Bible."
The bill also requires curriculum standards and a textbook other than the Bible.
The classes would be offered starting the fall semester of 2009.
Two literature classes on the Bible are included on a list of state-approved courses that Georgia public schools could choose to offer beginning next year. Some critics say it would be the first state to take an explicit stance endorsing and funding biblical teachings.
Chisum knows how game played
Lawmaker used to proposals being watered down
By Enrique Rangel
Globe-News Austin Bureau
May 9, 2007
AUSTIN - To no one's surprise, the Texas House on Wednesday easily gave final approval to a bill that would give the state public schools the option of including Bible classes in their curriculum.
For Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, the passage of a bill was a victory because he authored the legislation. But as Chisum admitted later in the day, the bill that his colleagues unanimously approved is not the bill that he had initially written.
The way Chisum initially wrote House Bill 1287, the school districts would decide whether to have Bible classes if at least 15 students asked for them. But under the rewritten version the House approved Wednesday, the State Board of Education would decide the curriculum.
"It was watered down some," he said. "But we'll go with what we've got. I think it's a legitimate bill and I think it'll be OK."
The story of Chisum's Bible bill is the story of his highly ambitious social conservative agenda during the 80th legislative session.
He may be the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the most important panel in the Texas Legislature, but he still is best known for his social conservative causes.
And in contrast to past sessions, most of his social conservative legislation has been voted on the House floor and now awaits approval in the Senate.
But like HB 1287, the bills that still are alive have been watered down considerably. Or, as Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, said, "Chisum's bills come in too conservative but leave the floor mainstream."
The other bills
Two of the bills that already have left the House and are now waiting Senate approval are what Chisum calls pro-family bills.
One in particular, HB 2685, would require that couples applying for a marriage license take a pre-marital course before saying "I do." But like the Bible bill, it also was watered down considerably because a provision in the bill that would have increased the marriage license fee from $60 to $100 was struck down.
And then, there is HB 175, which would have made abortion illegal in Texas in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion in the United States.
The bill was killed in the State Affairs Committee chaired by Chisum's close friend, Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas.
Swinford, who supported the legislation, said the bill was killed by a technicality, not because of what it proposed to do. In a nine-member committee, a bill needs a minimum of five votes to be voted out, but the day of the vote there were only six members present and the vote in favor of the bill was 4-2, not enough to send it to the House floor.
Chisum accepted the fate of his bill gracefully, Swinford said.
"He's been here a long time, and he understands how the process works," Swinford said.
Chisum said that despite the setback and the watering down of his bills, even if they don't make it in the Senate, he still feels like he won a major victory.
"We've got a debate and it wasn't just here or in the media," he said. "We got the issue out there in front of the public and there was broad public support for it. I am not disappointed at all. A lot of people, I suspect, didn't even know that you could teach Bible in the public schools."
Bolton, who strongly disagrees with Chisum's social conservative views, agrees with him on that regard.
"I think it is true," Bolton said. "His issues get attention."
However, they are watered down because the Texas House is very diverse and ultimately "the mainstream agenda and mainstream points of view prevail," she said.
"A lot of people across the spectrum like Representative Chisum," Bolton said. "He's very easy to talk to, he's very engaging and he's got a great sense of humor."
Senate OKs Bible course in public schools
By LIZ AUSTIN PETERSON
Associated Press Writer
Wed, May. 23, 2007
AUSTIN -- High schools will be able to offer elective Bible courses under a bill the Texas Senate sent to the governor on Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Warren Chisum originally wanted to require high schools to offer the elective courses. But the House passed a watered-down plan and the Senate voted 28-2 to approve that version.
The legislation would allow schools to offer courses about the Old and New Testament that familiarize students with the contents, history and literary style of the scriptures and the influence they have had on everything from government to art.
"I think students that are not educated in Biblical literature have a real hard time understanding what motivated our founding fathers, what motivated Abraham Lincoln, what motivated Martin Luther King Jr.," said Sen. Craig Estes, the bill's Senate sponsor.
Estes tried to amend the bill to require school districts to offer the course unless fewer than 20 students enrolled in it. But he withdrew that proposal after running into resistance from several senators who preferred the House version.
Estes said he believes the bill as passed requires school districts to offer the course if 15 or more students ask for it.
But Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Houston Democrat who led the charge to make offering the courses optional, said that wasn't correct.
"The clear intent of this bill is we would establish a well-researched, well-vetted course that districts may offer," Hochberg said.
For example, the bill requires teachers to undergo training before leading the course. The attorney general also would have to affirm that the proposed state curriculum standards don't violate the First Amendment.
The classes would be offered starting the fall semester of 2009.
Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa voted against the proposal, saying he would be more comfortable with a course on the history of diverse religions.
"We are pushing one religion to be taught by schools and not all religions and to me that's a violation of the Constitution and the separation of church and state," said Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
A study by the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network last year identified 25 high schools in the state already offering such courses and said that many have serious problems.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the People for the American Way Foundation sued the Ector County Independent School District last week on behalf of eight parents who say that district's Bible course violates their religious liberty.
The Ector school board approved the course, a high school elective, by a 4-2 vote in 2005. The ACLU said the curriculum the district chose is "basically a Sunday School class within the walls of a public school."
The district has declined to discuss the lawsuit but has said in the past that it is comfortable with the curriculum.
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, applauded the Senate for sticking with the House's safeguards, such as teacher training requirements.
"We will now join with families across the state to ensure that schools adhere to the bills clear standards that promote respect for both the Bible and the religious freedom of all students," Miller said in a statement.
The proposal is HB1287.
Senate OKs bill for school Bible classes
But the measure's wording is causing confusion over whether elective must be offered
By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
May 24, 2007
AUSTIN — The Senate easily passed and sent to the governor a bill Wednesday to teach Bible classes to high school students, but lawmakers immediately disagreed on whether the measure would make the courses mandatory.
Legislative leaders differed on whether school districts may offer the religion studies course, or whether they are obligated to do so if 15 or more students sign up for it. Both "may" and "shall" show up in different sections of the House bill that the Senate passed 28-2 without changing.
Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, said his legislative intent clearly is to require school districts to offer the Bible course if at least 15 students sign up for it.
However, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, noted that the House Public Education Committee specifically removed "shall" from the original legislation, House Bill 1287, which, he said, allows local school districts to decide whether to offer the course, intended to give students a fuller appreciation of religion's role in society.
"We'll just have to get some experts to look at it," Estes said after being told of Hochberg's interpretation of the bill.
Estes and other supporters got little disagreement from critics that people could benefit from more knowledge about Hebrew scripture, the Christian Bible and the Islamic Quran.
"People need to know both the good things and bad things that have happened in history in the name of religion," Estes said. "There's lots on both sides to go around, and an elective course like this is a wonderful forum to discuss those issues."
And it would be nearly impossible for students, he said, "to understand the writings and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." without a basic knowledge of the Bible.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked Estes whether the legislation would obligate school districts to offer a study of the Quran if at least 15 students requested such a course.
Yes, Estes answered, explaining that non-Muslim students may want to study the impact of the Quran "because of the present problems that we have with the war on terror because of people's misrepresentation of the Quran."
Only two senators, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, opposed the bill.
Hinojosa expressed fear that any religious study course would focus more on the Bible and Christianity than on other faiths.
And he seemed to support Estes' view that a group of 15 or more students could obligate a school district to offer a religious study course.
"Since when do we allow students to dictate to TEA (Texas Education Agency) or some school system what courses to teach?" Hinojosa asked.
Changes to original
The bill heading to Gov. Rick Perry's desk contains several changes from the original measure, all designed to satisfy skeptics. They include:
• Specifications for teacher training and qualifications.
• Requirements for curriculum standards and an actual textbook instead of using the Bible as the textbook.
• Stronger protections for the religious freedom of students and their families.
"Today, the Senate kept safeguards in this bill that should prevent government from telling our schoolchildren what to believe about the Bible," said Kathy Miller, president of a nonpartisan organization that supports religious freedom.
"We will now join with families across the state to ensure that schools adhere to the bill's clear standards that promote respect for both the Bible and the religious freedom of all students."
INSIDE THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Bible Showdown In Odessa Could Have Texas-Sized Impact
By Charles C. Haynes
First Amendment Center
Thursday, 24 of May , 2007
Emotions are running high this week in Odessa, Texas, over a lawsuit filed May 16 challenging a Bible course taught in two local public schools – including Permian High School of “Friday Night Lights” fame.
If there’s one thing that inspires more devotion than football in West Texas, it’s the Bible. But promoting the religion of football in schools is perfectly legal – promoting the religion of the Bible is not.
School officials in Ector County (where Odessa is located) claim to understand the difference. They insist that the Bible elective is academically sound and thus constitutionally permissible.
Some Odessa citizens insist otherwise. According to the complaint filed by eight local parents (Moreno v. Ector County Independent School District), the Bible course presents “the Bible from a singular religious point of view that might be appropriate for Sunday school but has no place in public schools.” The parents are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way Foundation.
The lawsuit alleges that the course teaches the King James Version of the Bible as literal, historical truth and promotes a conservative Protestant understanding of the text. Interpretations from other Christian or Jewish perspectives – and the views of most Biblical scholars – are ignored or disparaged.
Far more is at stake in this case than a couple of Bible classes in Odessa. That’s because the material used in the course is produced by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a North Carolina-based organization supported by many conservative Christian advocacy groups.
The National Council’s Web site claims that its curriculum “has been voted into 382 school districts in 37 states.” Although these numbers are impossible to confirm (as the council won’t reveal locations), it is clear from news reports (and calls I get) that this curriculum is sparking controversy in a growing number of communities. A legal setback in Ector County could put the brakes on the National Council’s efforts nationwide.
Odessa could have avoided this costly lawsuit by choosing an alternative curriculum. In fact, the Bible curriculum committee created by the local school board favored The Bible and Its Influence, a textbook published by the Bible Literacy Project (disclosure: I was one of 41 scholars who reviewed drafts of this textbook). Some evangelical leaders (supporters of the National Council) have attacked this text, while others, such as Chuck Colson, have praised it. But legal experts agree that it’s constitutionally sound.
The Ector County superintendent and board ignored the committee and decided to adopt the National Council’s approach. The lawsuit alleges that the decision was motivated by a religious agenda, not a bona fide educational objective.
Similar clashes pitting the National Council’s material against The Bible and Its Influence have broken out in other school districts and even in a few state legislatures. Last year, after a Democratic-Republican tug-of-war over the two curriculums, the Georgia Legislature passed a “Bible bill” providing state support for Bible electives using language that encourages the National Council’s approach.
And this week the Texas Legislature sent a bill to the governor that would encourage Bible electives – although unlike the Georgia legislation it has some safeguards, such as a requirement that teachers undergo training before teaching the course.
As Bible electives proliferate, so will conflicts over how to teach them. That’s why the Odessa case looms so large. If this Bible course is declared unconstitutional, school districts thinking about adopting their own will have to work harder to make sure they get it right.
Lawsuits can be ugly, divisive and expensive – and should be a last resort. But when school officials try to turn a classroom into a church, sometimes it takes a judge to draw the First Amendment line. 5-24-07
Charles C. Haynes is senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22209. Web: firstamendmentcenter.org. E-mail: email@example.com.
MISD to mull state Bible bill
Texas Legislature passes bill allowing districts to offer Old and New Testament classes.
Slapped by ACLU lawsuit, ECISD already has course in curriculum.
Ruth Campbell, Staff Writer
Midland ISD is not yet sure what to make of a bill passed by the Texas Legislature allowing districts to offer elective courses in the Old and New Testament. But the Ector County and Big Spring school districts already have courses in place.
MISD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Ed Zachary said the district will study the bill carefully and revisit its research from two years ago.
"As I recall from when we last visited this issue, there were pretty evenly divided pros (and) cons ... concerning the possibility of us implementing a Bible study course," Zachary said.
"We ended up not pursuing it any further when we were not able to find a fully completed curriculum guide that, in our opinion, would meet the guidelines and standards that a school district is required to operate under relative to a course of this nature," he said.
The district then tabled any further consideration of a Bible course until it could gather more information from other school districts and companies publishing Bible curriculum, he said.
"We were also interested in determining how the Legislature would respond and how the courts might rule in the interim. Here we are at a point in time where we have ... some more direction from the state that would help us to make a decision on a recommendation we would take to our school board," Zachary said.
Under the bill, originated by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, school districts will have the option to offer courses in the Old and New Testament, if 15 students or more want to take it, the bill said.
If signed by Gov. Rick Perry, it would take effect in the 2009-2010 school year.
According to the bill status line, both houses have to sign the legislation and the House needs to receive the Senate's amendments. If those pass, it goes to Perry. If there are problems with the amendments, the bill will be sent to a conference committee.
The legislative session ends Monday.
Ector County ISD trustees voted to offer an elective Bible course in 2005 and began offering it in 2006-'07 at Odessa and Permian high schools. The course, developed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, uses the King James Version of the Bible as its main text.
The American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way sued the Odessa district on behalf of eight parents saying the course view is too narrow and violates their religious liberty.
ACLU Communications Director Amy Everhart Davis said Thursday she thinks the bill includes the safeguards the group wanted and a curriculum would still have to be selected that is more literary or historic than the National Council on Bible Curriculum's offering.
Davis said the ACLU's Austin office teamed up with organizations such as the Texas Freedom Network to "get those safeguards in."
Hiram Sasser III, director of litigation for the Liberty Legal Institute, which is defending ECISD in the ACLU lawsuit, helped edit the bill. He said the Legislature considered the National Bible Council and Bible Literacy Project, but some of the bill's language is pulled directly from the National Bible Council curriculum.
Sasser said the ACLU has not voiced opposition to the bill.
"They're pioneers," Sasser said of ECISD. "... They're already in compliance. It leads you to wonder what in the world in the ACLU is suing over."
House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said he was pleased with the bill.
"Since the Bible provides much of the foundation for Western civilization, our students' education cannot be considered complete until they understand subjects such as history and literature in a Biblical context. I would like to thank Rep. Chisum for his efforts in giving school districts the choice to offer classes on this influential piece of literature," Craddick said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency will be working on Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for the course. Once the curriculum is developed, spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said textbook companies would being crafting textbooks for the course.
Normally, she said, curriculums have been around for a while, so it's not very common to see creation of books. Once textbook bids come in, the books are placed on a conforming list if they meet the state curriculum and a non-conforming list if they do not.
School districts pick from the conforming list, she said.
"I'm pretty sure the curriculum division doesn't quite have a timeline yet on how this will unfold because the bill just passed. Even though implementation date is '09, it's still a relatively short period of time," Marchman said.
Texas Citizens for Science Last Updated: 2007 May 25