Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, who now represents the 1st Senatorial District, has never been shy about expressing his conservative viewpoint, including his recent co-sponsorship of a bill adding a Bible study elective to the curriculum of North Carolina’s public schools. Taking that position is certainly not out of character for Cook, but it is, nonetheless, disappointing.
The legislation, known as Senate Bill 138, is primarily an exercise in political pandering. Cook and 15 other Republican state senators seem intent on placating some constituencies who perceive societal ills as an erosion of the nation’s moral fiber resulting, in part at least, from too few children growing up with Christian values.
While the bill is designed to curry favor with that demographic, reality is that most Christians would rather government leave the issue of religion to families, parents and churches — where it belongs. Government isn’t needed to promote any religion. When it does, the result typically has the opposite effect — not endearing souls to faith, but casting doubt on a religion that must rely on government support.
Senate Bill 138 would allow school districts — through their school board’s approval — to give course credit to high school students taking the Bible study elective. No funding is included in the legislation, leaving the costs up to local districts.
What the bill’s sponsors so easily ignored is how far this piece of legislation strays from meaningful, well-researched lawmaking. Consider the wording of the bill: It includes the very constitutional violation that it claims to be avoiding. “... A course offered by a local board of education ... shall follow federal and state law in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of the students of the local school administrative unit and not endorse, favor or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religion, nonreligious faith, or religious perspective. ...”
Yet, by offering only the teaching of a single religious context — in this case, the Bible — the state, in effect, is violating the federal neutrality provision. It is showing “favor” to Christianity by promoting its study specifically.
The Senate bill does not call for local school districts to offer electives in the study of literary content used as the basis of any commonly practiced religion, such as the Bible, Koran, Torah and other books. This bill’s intent is specific: Bible study.
If sponsors of the bill were actually interested in aiding in the education of the state’s school children, the bill would have urged creation of an elective course that provides a comprehensive overview of world religions, their history, fundamental beliefs, conflicts and impact on events. That’s an elective everyone could support — taught to inform students how religious beliefs and practices help enrich, motivate and organize populations, yet also result in conflicts that divide nations and societies. Such a course might provide a deeper understanding of the world and bring about enlightenment and more effective attempts to solve our global problems.
But that’s not what Senate Bill 138 is about. This bill has a singular objective — not to educate, but to indoctrinate and separate.
Furthermore, the hypocrisy behind Senate Bill 138 is stunning. For years, people of faith — many of them conservative Republicans just like the sponsors of this bill — have made the strong case that an individual’s moral compass is created and nurtured within the family and at church. This bill would have us believe that’s not working. It suggests that our schools should now assume the responsibility for giving students what parents and churches apparently have failed to give them.
It’s troubling when public officials wander outside the parameters of their elective obligations. Yet, here we have lawmakers who have ventured perilously far down the rabbit hole. The real tragedy is, given the current political tilt that is apparent in our state legislature, Senate Bill 138 won’t be the last swipe at sensible lawmaking.