OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A proposed bill in Oklahoma aims to protect public schools in the state from legal action should they decide to offer Bible courses as electives for students.
Senate Bill 48 was introduced by Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) in light of the opposition that a school district faced last year for agreeing to implement an elective course offered by Steve Green, the president of the popular craft chain Hobby Lobby.
As previously reported, the Mustang School Board had agreed last April to move forward with the “Museum of the Bible” curriculum presented by Green, who also serves as the overseer of the traveling Bible exhibit “Passages.” He had introduced the course to the school board in 2013, explaining to those present that he would like to offer an introductory course on “the Old and New Testament’s impact on society.”
Green had been invited by Mustang School District Superintendent Sean McDaniel to speak about the proposed class for Mustang High School, and 170 students selected the course as their first choice for an elective when polled about the matter.
But the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) took issue with the course, stating that it was unconstitutional. Working alongside AUSCS and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), FFRF then filed a freedom of information request to obtain documents that would show the level of the school board’s involvement in the curriculum.
Following its second request, the groups received an email from McDaniel, outlining that the district had dropped its plans to offer the course.
But now, Sen. Loveless is seeking to protect districts such as Mustang from legal action in the event that they feel pressured to cancel religious courses simply because of to outside pressure from atheists or church-state separation groups.
“The district and others across Oklahoma 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,” he told the Huffington Post.
“The [Mustang] district projected that there were going to be between 20-30 students interested in the elective. In actuality, 180 students signed up,” he also told the Enterprise Examiner. “They were extremely disappointed in having the class cancelled.”
Loveless said that he had been approached by constituents who urged him to craft a bill that would protect schools in such instances.
“I don’t see anything wrong with [a provision] that gives local school districts the ability to study the historical aspects of the Bible. That’s my reasoning for the bill,” he added. “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.”
“A school district and its employees and agents shall incur no liability as a result of providing an elective course in the objective study of religion or the Bible,” the bill reads.
If passed, the legislation would go into effect this summer before the new school year begins.