Joe Henderson: High school Bible class bill looks dead for now, as it should
Proposed bill for Bible study classes in Florida public high schools crosses a line

There are many options that don't include public schools for students to study the Bible.

I have a nominee for the biggest non-surprise of the Legislative Session. The bill to require Florida high schools to offer a class on the Christian Bible looks dead for this year.

That is good news because it will save the state the cost of defending an indefensible law against inevitable lawsuits. Take your blessings where you can get them.

I say this both as a Christian and member of the United Methodist Church for the last 40 years. I have spent lots of time in Bible studies and assorted classes. I’m not perfect and don’t claim to be.

I offer that disclaimer so that anyone reading this doesn’t believe I’m some anti-religion zealot. But when the state gets involved in any holy mandate that uses public money in a public setting to advance any single religion or study, that’s just wrong.

That’s why HB-195, offered up by Democratic state Rep. Kim Daniels of Jacksonville, was doomed the moment she filed the bill.

She should give serious thought to choosing another career if she can’t understand why that’s true.

Oh, Daniels thought she had the bases covered. The class would be an elective; students didn’t have to sign up. And I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been an interesting course.

But Daniels should have understood there would be fairness issues from the start. As A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics reported, Rajan Zed, the President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, wanted his religion represented.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, wanted to add the Qu’ran to the bill.

Daniels wouldn’t budge. Her bill would have mandated an “objective study” of the Hebrew Bible – specifically, the Old Testament, and the New Testament.

I won’t get into all the cans of worms that could be opened by that “objective study” because the Bible contains many passages that don’t fit the sanitized version of Christianity.

Take David and Bathsheba for example. Look it up, folks.

I learned that story, and many others, in church and Sunday School. I’ve been part of home studies where the good and bad of our religion was analyzed. I guess you could say we had an “objective study.”

That’s the proper setting.

The key word in the objection to what Daniels proposed is “mandate.” Requiring public schools to offer a course that focuses on a particular religion and doctrine crosses a dangerous line.

What would Daniels tell students who follow other religions, or no religion? Sure, the class is voluntary, but it would be paid for by tax dollars collected from everyone.

Parents have plenty of options if they want their students to study the Christian Bible. There are churches everywhere, and they are always looking for seekers.

Students can even have Bible clubs at their public schools; they just can’t be led by an adult teacher.

We see these constant pushes for more, though.

They always end the way Kim Daniels’ bill did. They might figure that out eventually, but I wouldn’t bet on that.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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