Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Banning the teaching of "religious doctrine" is a bad idea and the Butt's bill is a bad bill.

Below is the text of the bill by Rep. Sheila Butt that would ban the teaching of religious doctrine.

By Butt
AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, relative to curriculum for K–12 public schools.
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, is amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section:
(a) The state board of education shall not include religious doctrine in any curriculum standards for grades prior to grades ten through twelve (10–12).
(b) The state board shall provide curriculum standards for grades ten (10), eleven (11), or twelve (12) that teach comparative religion as it relates to history or geography, but no religion shall be emphasized or focused on over another religion.
(c) If the curriculum standards in grades prior to grades ten through twelve (10–12) include a reference to a specific religion or the role and importance of a religion in history or geography, then the state board shall ensure that the reference does not amount to teaching any form of religious doctrine to the students.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.
"Religious doctrine" is not defined in the bill. Some teachers may decide that the term means they may not even mention religion at all and another may determine that teaching the basic tenants of any faith is not teaching "doctrine" but educating students about the tenants of that faith.

Merriam-Webster says doctrine is "a set of ideas or beliefs that are taught or believed to be true." Is to state that Christians believe Jesus Christ is the son of God teaching "doctrine?"  I think it is. I think this bill would ban explaining what any religious group believes. There is a difference between explaining what a religion teaches and teaching people it is the truth. There is a difference between saying "Christians believe Jesus Christ is the son of God," and saying, "Jesus Christ is the son of God." There is a difference between explaining doctrine and indoctrination. Does Butts really want to ban teaching doctrine or ban proselytizing and indoctrination?

An overly cautious teacher may determine he can not teach World History, because it is difficult to teach world history without mentioning the Reformation or The Holy Roman Empire or the Crusades.  To teach about those things one would have to explain what all the fuss was about. That is getting into teaching doctrine.

It would also be difficult to teach American history. The motivation for much exploration of the New World was to claim lands for God and King, and then the Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom, and the movement to free the slaves was in large part motivated by religious zeal as were many social reforms. And how are you going to teach American History without getting into, "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…?"  That may require an explanation of doctrine.

One could not discuss current events in the class room for to mention the wars in the Middle East or the renewed Palestinian uprising or gay marriage or the recent controversy over abortion may require an acknowledgement that these conflicts or disagreements are rooted in religious "doctrine."  

The idea that in a comparative religion class one must not give more emphasis or focus to one religion over another is absurd. Taoism simply does not deserve the same amount of attention as Christianity. It has not had the same impact on shaping our world.

I am all for scrutinizing what is taught in the classroom and making sure our text books are accurate. I also suspect that we may have some teachers who are so liberal and politically correct that they may be teaching that all religious views are equally valid and maybe overselling the historically positive aspects of the Islamic faith and ignoring the fanaticism of Islam. This bill however is killing a fly by dropping a bomb.  

An unintended consequence of this bill, should it pass, is that the classroom becomes even more of a secular zone where the role of religious faith can not even be acknowledged. The classroom may become a place were the only "doctrine" that can be taught is the doctrine of secularism.  Is that what we want?

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