Board would be wise to take staff’s advice on Bible class

July 2, 2013

At last month’s meeting of the Cape Henlopen School District Board of Education, people lined up and spoke, often passionately, either for or against a proposed Bible Literacy class.

Board members, too, exchanged opinions, civil but heated.

This month, following meetings with high school staff members, Michael Kelley, director of curriculum and instruction, presented his recommendation: It was the staff’s consensus, he said, that it would be best if the high school did not offer a Bible Literacy class.

Kelley’s announcement was followed by a moment of silence.

Not a quasi-religious moment of silence. Just silence. Despite last month’s vigorous discussion, board members didn’t ask a single question.

Not that the issue is dead. Board member Spencer Brittingham asked that it be brought up and discussed at next month’s board meeting.

The board would be wise, however, to take the staff’s advice.

Kelley said staff members decided the constitutionality of a Bible Literacy class wasn’t an issue, but they were concerned about the undue pressure the teacher of such a class would face.

That pressure could come from all sides. As I mentioned in an earlier column, what struck me when I Googled the Bible Literacy Project was how the program had been under attack from both the right and the left.

Teachers, said Kelley, also pointed out that several courses already touch on the Bible. The World History class includes a section on the world’s religions, and English classes study a variety of literary works with biblical themes, such as those by English poets John Donne and John Milton and American playwright Arthur Miller.

“As a former member of the English department,” Kelley said, “I can tell you that the British literature text, from which I taught, included excerpts from the King James Bible, the publication of which was a significant cultural and literary event of the early 17th century.”

But, said Kelley, the staff concurred, “The in-depth study of the Bible or Bible literacy is best handled at home or at church, where the study does not have to be artificially contrived to be devoid of belief.

“It’s my recommendation,” he continued, “that we do not open the doors of our high school to the potential controversy that could stem from a course on the Bible, no matter how well-intentioned.”

And that’s the nub of the issue.

Such a class would be inherently controversial. How could it not be when it would deal with our most private and deeply held beliefs?

That puts a school district in a tough position. Unlike other governmental bodies, a school district must go to referendum and ask voters directly to raise their own taxes. That’s a tough sell in the best of situations. An unnecessary controversy could make a referendum even more difficult.

House Republicans not conservative enough on guns?

Here’s a headline I didn’t expect to see coming from the House Republican Caucus: “Senate Defeats Bill to Keep Guns from the Mentally Ill.”

Yes, we live in an amazing state and an amazing country. It’s not surprising to see a gun bill defeated. That’s to be expected.

But it is surprising to see a bill that had broad bipartisan support in the House – the vote was 40-1 – get crushed in the Senate 13-6. Eight Republicans and five Democrats voted against the bill.

I understand that people are concerned about keeping their firearms, but this was a bill that was supported by people such as Rep. Steve Smyk, a strong supporter of gun rights.

Even the NRA seemed satisfied with the bill.

The Republican Caucus report quoted NRA liaison Shannon Alford as saying, “We have withdrawn our opposition to the bill. We no longer consider this legislation particularly threatening to law-abiding gun owners.”

The legislation, House Bill 88, strengthens an existing law requiring mental health professionals to report those who may be a threat to others to the police.

The police, in turn, would have to get permission from a court to take away a person’s guns.

The bill also clarifies that persons found not guilty of crimes by reason of insanity, guilty but mentally ill or mentally incompetent to stand trial would be prohibited from possessing firearms.

This is controversial? The answer is yes. Even Sen. Ernie Lopez, the Lewes Republican who earlier backed a bill to expand background checks, voted against HB 88.

I would have thought the background check bill was a tougher vote.

I happened to run into Smyk Friday evening and he too expressed surprise about the bill’s defeat.

He thought the bill could eventually be brought back before the Legislature.

But for that to happen, people will have to be educated first about what’s actually in the bill.

  • Accomplished writers appear in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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