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US state orders all schools to teach the Bible

The ruling by Oklahoma’s education authorities has been labeled as unconstitutional by critics

Oklahoma’s top education official has ordered all public schools in the state to teach the Bible and the Ten Commandments to their students in a move that critics claim violates the US Constitution. 

Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction, announced the directive at a Department of Education board meeting on Thursday, requiring “immediate and strict compliance.”

He called the Bible “one of the most foundational documents used for the Constitution and the birth” of the United States. It is a necessary “historical document to teach our kids about the history of this country, to have a complete understanding of Western civilization, to have an understanding of the basis of our legal system,” Walters argued.

Every classroom in Oklahoma from grades five to 12 must have a Bible, and all teachers must teach from the Bible in the classroom, he added.

The announcement attracted criticism from civil rights organizations and groups that advocate for separation between church and state.

“Requiring a Bible in every classroom does not improve Oklahoma’s ranking of 49th in education,” State Representative Mickey Dollens said in a statement. “The state superintendent should focus on educating students, not evangelizing them.”

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US state sued over Ten Commandments law

Critics also claim the new ruling is unconstitutional. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and bans the state from sponsoring or establishing any particular religion.

The Oklahoma constitution goes even further, stipulating that public schools be nonsectarian, and not benefit “any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

The ruling comes after the Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier this week blocked an effort in which Walters was involved to establish the first publicly funded religious charter school in the US.

The state’s teachers’ union also protested Walters’ Bible order, saying that “teaching about the historical context of religion” is permissible. However, public schools cannot “indoctrinate students with a particular religious belief or religious curriculum,” the Oklahoma Education Association said in a statement.

The Oklahoma directive comes a week after the governor of Louisiana signed a law ordering all public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

Days later, several families backed by civil rights groups sued the state of Louisiana, contending that the legislation violates the US Constitution and “pressures” students into adopting the state’s favored religion.

June 28, 2024 at 05:15PM

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