Blessings in Disguise

Florida’s Masking of Bible Class

John+Adams%27+quote+regarding+the+United+States+Government%27s+connections+to+the+Christian+Faith.

Chris D - Flickr.com

John Adams’ quote regarding the United States Government’s connections to the Christian Faith.

Recently, a Democrat in Florida’s legislature introduced HB 341 which would require high schools across the state to offer an “objective study of religion” as an elective to students. Included in the bill is a brief outline of three classes that would be offered to students: “A course on the Hebrew Scriptures and Old Testament, a course on the New Testament, and a course on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, and the New Testament of the Bible.”

English teachers throughout West Boca will almost unanimously agree that there is value in understanding religious references. Authors throughout the last half-millennia have referenced the Bible in an effort to promote ideals and more precisely display historical settings in writings. In an ever more secular world, kids continue to neglect key references, essential to fully understanding literature.

West Boca English Teacher, Mrs. Dillard emphasized the importance of teaching religion to benefit broad aspects of life and society. “Fully understanding religious concepts is needed to understand not only literature but also connections between people. Without knowing the history of religions, perspective is lost,” she continued, “This perspective can be applied to much more than literature. Recognizing religious concepts is a benefit to comprehending history, literature, and government.”

While frustrated English teachers may be in favor of a more knowledgeable group of students; this bill is extremely dangerous. The bill, introduced by Kim Daniels, is nothing more than a structured way to promote her Christian ideals. The bill’s language is careful in its efforts to keep all teachings objective, but throughout her career, Kim Daniels has been anything but objective. She’s a minister who has written multiple books on her Christian faith. Through her time in Florida’s Legislature, she has spoken on her personal faith and drawn up multiple bills requiring stronger promotion of her religion in schools. She championed bills requiring the phrase “In God We Trust” to be posted at all schools and a “moment of silence” to start each day. 

The lawmaker, who once called herself the “demon buster,” is no stranger to controversy. After her election to Florida’s house, she was immediately placed under investigation for misappropriating campaign funds for personal use. According to The Orlando Weekly Daniels has gone on to refer to homosexuality as an “army of darkness”. Newsweek has also noted her  use of the anti-Semitic trope that “Jews own everything.” 

Any legislation with the goal of pushing religion to students is immediately dangerous. An effort to promote such a sensitive subject in an objective fashion is already difficult. Teachers, first, need to be trusted not to push their own personal beliefs. When asked about concerns in regard to public schools teaching religion, West Boca English Teacher Ms. Dixon commanded, “It MUST NOT proselytize. Period. No way.” This requires an unrealistic amount of faith in educators. It also would not be far-reaching to assume that an official curriculum will eventually be drawn up. Trusting the state to teach religion is an extraordinarily slippery slope, especially when the sponsor of the bill is close-minded and radically intolerant. 

The Bullseye reached out to Tina Polsky, West Boca’s Representative in Florida’s House, and she stated concerns with the bill, saying, “I am very uncomfortable with HB 341 as it creates multiple problems for public schools: it forces a school to hold additional classes on the Bible for which they may not have enough teachers – we have a teacher shortage to begin with and don’t need more unfunded mandates.  More importantly, this is another blurring of the lines for separation of church and state – public schools are wholly government-funded and should therefore not be involved in religion at all. An elective on Comparative Religion is appropriate if a school so chooses, but not every religion believes in the Bible, and there should not be classes on the Bible in public schools, much less mandated by the state.” 

Not everyone is of the mindset that religious classes will indoctrinate students into a given belief system. Mrs. Dillard highlighted the vast cultural benefits of understanding religions and their origins. “I think that if students could see the connections and impact religion has had on the world, they could be more prepared to participate constructively in society. Instead, the government took out any mentions of religion, and students are not developing empathy. All that they see is hatred between sides. They are not shown that there are common themes throughout the major religions that connect. Without knowledge of the perspective of others, there is a gap in understanding… This is not a topic that is only for the understanding of literature. When I teach literature, it is necessary to go back and teach the symbolism of baptism, the Christ figure, and character motivations… If students can’t see this, then they are lacking vital information that can keep them from gaining a deeper understanding of the world around them.”

In a perfect world, a religious studies class would absolutely be beneficial. However, the question comes down to whether or not Florida’s education system would succeed in teaching this course to students. Trusting the state with organizing the teachings of religion is the most slippery of slopes. Kim Daniels’ true intentions are vivid, and placing her ideology and philosophies anywhere near students will only promote hatred to those solely interested in advancing their knowledge of the world’s most renowned book.