South Dakota Groundless Alarm About Academic Freedom

DI’s recent tactic to get ID into the public schools is to allow teacher’s under the guise of academic freedom to talk about ID in their classrooms. But FFRF has gotten the word out that lawsuits can (and will) ensue. Given that it is well known that FFRF has a win percentage in court of about 97% and DI has a 0% in court, school boards are reluctant wasting money fighting lawsuits. So when state legislators discuss “academic freedom” bills, this is what happens: Bills are defeated in order to save school districts of money that is better use for classroom instruction.

1 Like

According to that article, the proposed bill included this language:

No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.

I would be curious to know about some examples of science topics which receive “strengths and weaknesses” treatment in South Dakota. Photosynthesis? Mitosis? Osmosis? Transmutation of elements? The Periodic Table? Trigonometry in general? The Laws of Thermodynamics? Are students given full opportunity to debate (and even to deny and reject) these scientific concepts?

Indeed, whether it be a public school course in science, mathematics, or history, do most teachers in the public schools have plenty of surplus classroom time for adding “strengths and weaknesses” segments? Or do most teachers already struggle to meet all of the expectations of state Board of Education curriculum standards, local school boards, local employers of future graduates, and the students’ parents?


I just noticed this statement from the ENV article:

Contrary to his assertion that school districts should expect “a number of lawsuits,” Louisiana has had an academic freedom law similar to HB 1270 on the books since 2008, and Tennessee since 2012. Neither state has been subjected to lawsuits because of these laws.

As the young people say: “Duh!” Simply having an “academic freedom law” at the state level is not what is likely to bring on a lawsuit. I assume that a local school board actually having a teacher or course known to “exploit” such a law by teaching religious dogma, unacceptable non-curricular materials, and/or personal advocacy not in compliance with the usual course expectations is what would bring on a lawsuit from the FFRF or others.

1 Like

FFRF does send letters to School districts warning them to train their staffs that teachers must remain neutral on religion in carrying out their jobs and must adhere to the State Curriculum. Nevertheless FFRF gets over 1000 complaints a year. Usually the treat of a lawsuit is all that is necessary to resolve the complaint. I am not aware of any teacher that has tried to use these academic freedom law as a shield against a complaint.

My hunch is that most of those local school boards put a damper on such teachers soon after consulting the school district’s lawyers.

1 Like

I am sure they did. This is where the Dover decision comes back to bite DI. No school board is going to trust DI that ID isn’t creationism and isn’t science. Schools Board are not going to fall into that trap. The school district’s lawyers know what happened legally in the Dover trail and they are very reluctance to subject the school district to that calamity.

That got me thinking, @Patrick. I wonder how such states would react if the FFRF would lobby for state laws applying to “Bible as Literature” courses so as to protect the academic freedom of the teachers of those courses to teach “the strengths and weaknesses” of the Bible

1 Like

Concerning “Bible as Literature” courses that pop up, FFRF gets involved in making sure that the course is taught as completely secular and neutral on whether the Bible is fiction or not. This has such a dampening effect on the backers of the course that the course never gets off the ground. One of the biggest problem in such a course is “which Bible” to study? All of them? Another problem is related to cost. To insert an elective class in a high school, usually you have to eliminate one as you have a finite number of teachers and classrooms. So if you eliminate Russian III to replace it with Bible Lit, the district gets sued by the teachers’ union who see a tenured Russian teacher to be layed of in order to hire an experienced secular Bible Lit teacher.

That wasn’t a problem in my state when Bible as Literature courses got started in the 1970’s. I remember such a course starting in my school district and elsewhere in that Bible Belt state— and nobody seemed bothered by any of those factors. Indeed, the course was taught by one of the English teachers who happened to be Roman Catholic, in a school district which was by far predominantly fundamentalist Protestant. Because it was taught as literature, there were no complaints. (I had two friends on that school board as well as knowing the principal, and I asked them about that specifically. No problems.)

As to “which Bible”, the textbook used the RSV, just as with many college textbooks. But students were encouraged to read whatever version they wished. In a Bible as Literature course, the specific Bible version doesn’t matter all that much. (The students who didn’t have a Bible with an Apocrypha in it read their assignments in the library, which had sufficient copies.)

No. English departments routinely offer lots of electives (so that students can choose whatever they wish to fulfill various graduation and college-pre requirements) and TOTAL ENROLLMENT (that is, popularity) determines if and how often an elective is offered. As a result, courses like “Bible as Literature” are usually offered as every other year—much like “Shakespearean tragedies” and “Western Civilization Non-Fiction.”

I’ve never heard of Russian III (a course from an entirely different academic department) competing against an English Dept elective. They are different departmental budgets with different teachers involved.

In any case, I wonder what ENV would say about “academic freedom” laws being applied to the strengths and weaknesses of the Bible in a ‘Bible as Literature’ course.

The country is far more diverse and far more polarized now. I would be interested in how many public school have Bible as Literature courses today. I am only aware of problems when a public school district tries to start one now. I’d appreciate any current course offerings at any public high school.

Recent article:

1 Like

Very informative article.

@Patrick, no doubt about it: Given some time, politicians can muck up just about anything.

Of course, there is a lot of pot-stirring and manipulations in the article—but I certainly agree that the idea of religious advocacy groups producing course materials is outrageous. There are lots of great Bible as Literature textbooks produced by excellent religious studies scholars. There should be no need to look elsewhere for course material which helps students learn the general themes of the Bible which impact American society (and world history) as well as lists of Bible phrases and vocabulary which appear in English literature and everyday speech. Those are some of the most important components of such a high school course if I were the teacher.

The author of the article, Professor Candida Moss, says

The problems with Biblical literacy courses are twofold. First, the focus on Judeo-Christian traditions to the exclusion of other religious traditions promotes the idea that Christianity is a privileged religion in the United States and misses an opportunity to educate children in the wide range of religious beliefs held by Americans.

Facts are facts, and high school students shouldn’t be shielded from history, even if that history is uncomfortable. Like it or not, Christianity has been and is a “privileged religion” in the USA because of the migration patterns primarily from Europe over several centuries. Saying that a course in Bible as Literature “misses an opportunity” to educate children on other topics is like saying that a traditional geometry course misses an opportunity to teach probabilities and statistics. No one course is meant to cover everything. One can always add other electives if one wants to diversify curriculum. (Or one can delay some topics until college. One can’t cover everything in high school.) Let’s be realistic: Christianity is a huge influence in American society and understanding it is a solid foundation on which to better understand the plight of religious diversity (and minority religions) in American culture, among other goals.

Second, it’s difficult to teach the Bible in a way that does not prejudice one particular denomination of Christianity.

I disagree. Facts are facts. Their presentation doesn’t have to “prejudice” any particular denomination. There’s not enough time in a high school literature course of one term to get into that kind of nuance and detail. If the course is “prejudiced”, then either the teacher or the textbook or both have been poorly chosen.

To give just one truly obvious example, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants do not use the same Bible. Catholics and Protestants don’t even agree on which books the Bible should contain, much less how we should understand the content of those books.

Irrelevant. Even the KJV, the most important Protestant Bible translation in English Bible history, included the Apocrypha. Protestant students need to understand why it was included and they need to understand why Jewish scholars also included the Apocryphal books in their Greek Septuagint even though they didn’t regard those books in the same way as the Hebrew Tanakh. In any case, facts of history should not be avoided simply because somebody in another country finds them inconvenient or uncomfortable! (Notice that the professor spun her complaint about Bible diversity in such a way as to give the false impression that the Apocrypha has not been an important text to Protestants and Jews as well as Roman Catholics! I will bet that many uninformed readers of her article fell victim to her manipulation on this topic.)

Add to this the fact that some denominations read certain passages metaphorically while others are more invested in literalist interpretations, and it’s very difficult to teach a Biblical literacy class in a non-sectarian manner.

Rubbish. There are plenty of high school and college-level Bible as Literature textbooks which have no difficulty presenting overviews of the history of literalist and metaphorial Bible interpretation. Of course a Bible as Literature course will help students recognize that the Bible has been read in diverse ways by diverse groups. I thought recognition of diversity was a major goal in American education nowadays. Sheesh! Ya just can’t please some people!

A single version will be used, and the selection of that text and the prioritizing of certain stories and perspectives over others will always lean in the direction of a particular kind of Christianity.

While the textbook for the course may focus on a single translation (although both the KJV and a modern translation are routinely cited due to language issues), it doesn’t really matter what translation students are reading outside of classes. The differences just don’t matter all that much for a high school course. (If a student’s favorite Bible translation has no Apocrypha, they can read those books at the school’s reference desk in the library.)

Christians should worry as much about denominational indoctrination as much as members of other religious groups and atheists should.

If the course teacher or textbook are guilty of “denominational indoctrination”, we all should worry—because the department chairperson and teacher aren’t doing their jobs properly.

I certainly agree with Candida Moss that religious organizations should have no role in the course content and textbook selection. Nevertheless, I’m not unaware of her life experiences in the UK and her own agendas concerning “secularization”, as well her TV pundit role on CNN and CBS as a commentator on American religion politics being loaded with biases and non-academic goals of her own.

The whole idea of totally avoiding the inclusion of a particular English literature elective (one offered in American schools for many decades now) simply because some professors complain, “It’s too hard to do!” and because many people think it too controversial or that it doesn’t teach some other worthy subject----that’s just sad. Reality is reality. Let’s teach it. That applies in science education. And it should apply to English literature education.

Some public high schools include an English department elective teaching Greek and Latin morphemes so that students can greatly enrich their vocabulary. This is driven heavily by students planning on going to medical school or pursuing careers in science. Is that “preferential” or even elitist? Should such a course be avoided because it neglects the far less significant linguistic influences of Hindi, Creole, and Russian languages in the history of the English language? Get real.

1 Like

Here’s a helpful BBC summary of the influence of the KJV Bible on the English language:

Here’s some ubiquitous phrases which have their origins in the Bible. (I’m not sure who first compiled it. I’ve seen it in circulation for years and this is from my own archives.)

  • “A law unto themselves” Romans 2:14
  • “A house divided” Matthew 12:25, Luke 11:17
  • “A man after his own heart” 1 Samuel 13:14
  • “Apple of my eye” Deuteronomy 2:10, Zechariah 2:8
  • “At my wit’s end” Psalm 107:27
  • “Blind leading the blind” Matthew 15:14, Luke 6:39
  • “By the skin of our teeth” Job 19:20
  • “Can a leopard change his spots?” Jeremiah 13:23
  • “Don’t cast your pearls before swine” Matthew 7:6
  • “Drop in the bucket” Isaiah 40:15
  • “Dust of the earth” Genesis 13:16
  • “Eat, drink, and be merry” Ecclesiastes 8:15
  • “Eye for an eye” Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21 Matthew 5:38
  • “False prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing” Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22
  • “Fell on rocky ground” Matthew 13:5
  • “Fight the good faith” 1 Timothy 6:12
  • “Golden calf” Exodus 32
  • “Good Samaritan” Luke 10:25-37
  • “Hammer swords into plowshares” Isaiah 2:4
  • “He gave up the ghost” Luke 23:46
  • “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” John 8:7
  • “Handwriting on the wall” Daniel 5:5
  • “How are the mighty fallen” 1 Samuel 1:19-27
  • “Labor of love” 1 Thessalonians 1:3
  • “Letter of the law” 2 Corinthians 3:6
  • “Many are called, but few are chosen” Matthew 22:14
  • “Man shall not live by bread alone” Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4
  • “More blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35
  • “My brother’s keeper” Genesis 4:9
  • “No peace for the wicked” Isaiah 48:22, Isaiah 57:21
  • “Out of the mouths of babes” Psalm 8:2
  • “Pride goes before a fall” Proverbs 16:19
  • “Put your house in order” 2 Kings 20:1, Isaiah 38:1
  • “Red sky at morning” Matthew 16:3
  • “Salt of the earth” Matthew 5:13
  • “Signs of the times” Matthew 16:3
  • “Soft answer turns away wrath” Proverbs 15:1
  • “Stood by the stuff” (a reference to troops that guarded supplies) 1 Samuel 25:13, 30:24)
  • “Strait and narrow” Matthew 7:14
  • “Suffer fools gladly” 2 Corinthians 11:19
  • “Sweat of your brow” Genesis 3:19
  • “The blind leading the blind” Matthew 15:14, Luke 6:39
  • “The love of money is the root of all evil” 1 Timothy 6:10
  • “The truth shall make you free” John 8:32
  • “There’s nothing new under the sun” Ecclesiastes 1:9
  • “Thorn in the flesh” 2 Corinthians 12:7
  • “To everything there is a season” Ecclesiastes 3:1
  • “Twinkling of an eye” 1 Corinthians 15:52
  • “Wars and rumors of wars” Matthew 24:26, Mark 13:7
  • “Weighed in the balances and found wanting” Daniel 5:5
  • “What is truth?” John 18:38
  • “Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18

Yes, a well developed Bible as Literature course should include these basics of English language history.


Are there any other high school literature courses based on a single book?

Good question, @John_Dalton . Yes. I didn’t take the course at the time but my high school offered an elective course entitled, “Homer: The Odyssey.” A teenager I know mentioned a similar elective in his high school a couple of years ago. The Odyssey is the second oldest of all Western literature books. (The Illiad is the oldest of such ancient works.)

Of course, the Bible is not a single book. The Bible is the title of a compilation of many books by many authors over a period of many centuries. Are there any other high school literature courses based on compilations of many “books” published in a single book? Yes. For example, for many generations now English departments have offered elective courses on “The Great Plays of William Shakespeare”, “Short Stories of the American Renaissance Period”, and “Non-Fiction Classics of Western Civilization.” In these courses students often use a textbook containing compilations of selected works. Indeed, when I was in high school, I enrolled in these courses.

I suspect that you could have a very interesting class based on the writings of Shakespeare.

@AllenWitmerMiller Here is the latest on bible classes in public schools in Florida.