Oklahoma’s state superintendent requires public schools to teach the Bible

Oklahoma’s state superintendent on Thursday ordered all public schools to teach the Bible, including the Ten Commandments, in an unusual move that blurs the lines between religious instruction and public education.

Superintendent Ryan Walters, a Republican, described the Bible as an “essential historical and cultural touchstone” and said it should be taught in certain grade levels.

The move comes a week after Louisiana became the first state to mandate that public schools display the Ten Commandments in every classroom, a move that was quickly challenged in court. The Oklahoma order could be challenged and fuel the latest issue of the role of religion in public schools, which has taken on increasing national importance.

Efforts to bring religious texts into the classroom are part of a growing national movement to frame and interpret laws according to a particular conservative Christian worldview.

Oklahoma is seeking to become the first state to approve a religious charter school that pays taxpayer dollars for an online Catholic school set to open in August. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against the school this week, but the decision could be appealed.

Mr. Walters, who served in former history teacher Kevin Stitt’s cabinet before being elected state superintendent in 2022, has emerged as a lightning rod for conservative politics in Oklahoma and an unapologetic culture warrior in education. He fought to teach race and gender identity, He fought against “awakened ideology”. In public schools and sometimes targeted school districts and Individual teachers.

In his announcement on Thursday, Mr. Walters called the Bible “a necessary historical document to teach our children about the history of this country, to gain a thorough understanding of Western civilization, and to understand the basis of our legal system.”

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It was not immediately clear what the instruction would be, or what grade levels would be included. In a memo to school district leaders, Mr. Walters’ fifth through 12th grade is an example. He added that the government could provide teaching materials for the Bible to “ensure uniformity in comparison.”

His order drew immediate pushback, including from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sued to end a religious charter school in Oklahoma and the Ten Commandments in Louisiana.

Americans United President Rachel Lazer said the group “stands ready to protect and defend Oklahoma public school children and their families from constitutional violations of their religious freedoms.”

“Government schools are not Sunday schools,” he said, “Government schools may teach religion, but they may not preach any religion.”

Mr. School Board President Stacey Woolley for Tulsa Public Schools, which threatened to take Walters to task, said she believes the curriculum does not include specific instructions, but that it is “inappropriate” to teach students of diverse faiths and beliefs. There are some passages in the background from the Bible alone, excluding other religious texts.

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