Oklahoma Bill Seeks To Protect Schools That Want To Teach Bible Classes

File - This April 18, 2014 file photo shows a textbook by the Museum of the Bible which will be used for a new elective cours
File - This April 18, 2014 file photo shows a textbook by the Museum of the Bible which will be used for a new elective course starting in Fall 2014 at the suburban Oklahoma City Mustang School District high school in Mustang, Okla. According to emails obtained by the Associated Press, Hobby Lobby chief Steve Green has had a much larger role than previously suggested in the design and implementation the curriculum. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

A proposed bill in the Oklahoma state Senate seeks to allow schools to offer "an elective course in the objective study of religion or the Bible" without fear of legal liability.

Senate Bill 48 was introduced by state Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) after Mustang Public Schools had difficulty offering an elective course on the Bible.

Loveless says his bill would mean schools could not be sued for offering courses about religion or the Bible.

"The district and others across Okahoma have shown interest in having such a class, as an elective, and I am just wanting to keep them from feeling threatened of lawsuit or from not offering a class such as this," Loveless said in an email to The Huffington Post.

Last April, the district's school board approved course curriculum that had been provided by the Museum of the Bible. The museum was founded by Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retail store based in Oklahoma.

According to Religion News, in November 2014 Mustang decided against offering the course after questions were raised by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United For Separation of Church and State, who both worked with the American Civil Liberties Union to oppose the course.

"This sounds like a dodge," Burton Caine, law professor at Temple University, said when asked about Loveless' bill. "Distinctions make the field of religion in schools very foggy, but this one is foggier than any."

Caine added that it "makes no difference" in terms of First Amendment law whether the course was an elective or core class.

Loveless told a local paper, "It is not a forced class and this would not be a 'Sunday School' type course. We are not endorsing one religion over the other."

Asked by the paper whether he would support the bill if the language included study of the Quran, Loveless said, "Oklahoma is a predominantly Christian state. There has been no movement to teach the Quran as an elective. I would be open to debate on the issue."

HuffPost has reached out to the school district for comment.

The Supreme Court permits religion to be taught in schools provided it is "presented objectively as a part of a secular program of education." Green's involvement in the Museum of the Bible curriculum raised concerns that the course would not meet these standards.

When Mustang Public Schools first approved the course, a report from The Associated Press pointed out questionable portions of the curriculum, such as telling students that sinners would "suffer the consequences."

Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, reviewed the curriculum at the time in a USA Today article. While Prothero conceded that "you cannot make sense of Western art or American literature without basic biblical literacy," he said he had two major objections: first, that the textbook interpreted Bible stories through a Christian lens, and second, that the textbook insisted on the truth of the Bible.

Hobby Lobby hopes to bring this class to thousands of schools around the country, HuffPost reported last April.

Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, holding that corporations can opt out of providing contraception coverage to employees based on religious objections.



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