Idaho Senate’s Education Committee has introduced Senate Bill 1321, which would amend Idaho’s education code by adding this new section:
33-1604. USE OF THE BIBLE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS.The Bible is expressly permitted to be used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes to further the study of literature, comparative religion, English and foreign languages, United States and world history, comparative government, law, philosophy, ethics, astronomy, biology, geology, world geography, archaeology, music, sociology, and other topics of study where an understanding of the Bible may be useful or relevant. No student will be required to use any religious texts for reference purposes if the student or parents of the student object.
It’s an understatement to say this law has problems under the First Amendment. If it is enacted, it’s another ticket to a lawsuit which Idaho will surely lose. The case law has long since been sorted out.
But instead of focusing on law, let’s perform a thought experiment. What do you think the sponsors of this bill would think if you substituted the Koran for the Bible in the law? Do you think the Idaho Republicans would still support the proposed law? Maybe not?
Okay, what about the Hindu Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism? Would the Idaho Senate Education Committee support a bill that substituted the Vedas for the Bible? Again, maybe not?
Well, what about the Buddhist Sutras, the sacred texts of Buddhism? Another fail?
So this modest thought experiment demonstrates that it isn’t religion that the Idaho Republicans want in the public schools; it’s Christianity, and specifically the hare-brained Christianist literalism that insists every word of the King James Bible is absolutely true.
One of the motivations for the War of Independence by the Colonies against the British was to escape the mandate of state religion. Heck, the Puritans in New England, had left Old England (and Holland) because they disliked the state religion, the Church of England. Roger Williams founded Rhode Island to escape the state religion of Massachusetts.
As the Library of Congress puts it,
Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and fled Europe. The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established “as plantations of religion.”
The very last thing the Founding Fathers wanted was to impose a new state religion, when many of their ancestors had fled England and Europe to avoid state-imposed religions.
Which is why the First Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly forbids state-imposed religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And the force of the First Amendment was extended to individual states by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Founding Father himself, Thomas Jefferson, famously wrote in the Danbury Letter:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
The Christianists, the Biblical fundamentalists, claim to revere the Founding Fathers, and regard the U.S. Constitution as a divinely inspired document. They’re wrong in that, and the reverence for the founding Fathers ignores the realpolitik of American history. The Christianist zeal to impose their belief in Idaho schools is the antithesis of what the First Amendment stands for.
This isn’t about freedom of religion; it’s about freedom from religion, any religion. It’s the law. For good reason.