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Okla. Dept. of Education to require Bible taught in schools

Bible on list of 'challenged' books at libraries
Posted at 11:41 AM, Jun 27, 2024

OKLAHOMA CITY — At the monthly Oklahoma Board of Education meeting, State Superintendent Ryan Walters issued a bible mandate in all public schools.

“We will be issuing a memo that every school district will adhere to, which is, that every teacher in every school in the state will have a Bible in the classroom and will be teaching from the Bible in the classroom,” said Walters.

The news comes just days after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the state must end its contract with St. Isidore Virtual Catholic School, citing it is unconstitutional. Set to open in the Fall, St. Isidore would be the nation’s first religious charter school.

“This would have been the most unique charter school in the country, so I want you to know, we will continue to fight back against this,” said Walters.

State Supt. Ryan Walters talks St. Isidore decision, bibles in schools

The fight is not technically Walters to fight. The Oklahoma Supreme Court denied his request to intervene in the lawsuit last November.

Regarding the Bible mandate, Walters points to state statutes.

“Under Title 70 in multiple occasions, the Bible is a necessary historical document,” he said during the meeting.

2 News looked at Title 70. In 1,470 pages, it is mentioned four times: three times under approved elective courses and once as valid proof of family record for a Greenwood scholarship.

It is too early to tell whether this mandate will be enforced. While Walters has passed controversial emergency rules, he also said he would require the Ten Commandments in class, enforce prayer, and require religious-based training for teachers. That has not transpired.

Lawsuits are already gearing up from the same group behind the recent St. Isidore win.

In a statement, Americans United says in part, “Walters is abusing the power of his public office to impose his religious beliefs. Americans United is ready to step in and protect all Oklahoma public school children… from Constitutional violations.”

2 News reached out to several metro school districts, including Tulsa, Jenks, Union and Broken Arrow. All replied with a similar answer--that they will be awaiting further guidance on implementation.

Senator Carri Hick's released this statement about Walters' directive.

“I, like most Oklahomans, want the best educational opportunities for my children. And yet, Oklahoma still cannot attract and keep enough qualified educators in our classrooms, and we continue to fall well below the regional average investment for public education. Add to those challenges the fact that teachers are already dealing with conflicting and confusing information about what they can and cannot teach. This new order does not provide solutions to the real problems facing our schools, and yet again, more taxpayer dollars that could have better supported our students and teachers will likely be diverted to address legal challenges.”

The Tulsa Jewish Community responded to the memo with this:

The Tulsa Jewish Community is deeply concerned by Superintendent Ryan Walters’s recent directive mandating the Christian Bible be present and taught in every public school classroom. While we hold the Hebrew Bible in high regard within Judaism, believing it contains fundamental moral teachings and Jewish history, we believe this directive undermines the core principles of religious freedom and the separation of church and state, which are essential to our democracy and the core principles upon which our nation was founded.

Earlier this week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the use of state funds for religious charter schools as unconstitutional. Similarly, enforcing the presence of the Christian Bible in public school classrooms not only goes against the spirit of religious neutrality protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but also imposes a specific interpretation that does not encompass the diversity of religious beliefs in our society.

At a time when Oklahoma faces significant educational challenges, ranking 49th nationally, this directive distracts from addressing crucial education needs. Furthermore, it risks excluding students of various faiths, or those who adhere to no faith, creating divisions rather than fostering an inclusive educational environment. 

We urge Mr. Walters to prioritize creating inclusive educational settings that respect and accommodate the diverse religious and cultural backgrounds of all Oklahoma students. Upholding these principles is vital for preserving religious liberty and ensuring that public education remains a space where every student can learn and thrive without the imposition of specific religious doctrines.

Senator Mary Boren said she was denied access by the State Board of Education, which violates the Open Meetings Act.

"Failing to comply with the Open Meetings Act nullifies the actions of the Oklahoma State Board of Education and invites judicial scrutiny," Boren said.

WATCH: Recently in Louisiana, a new law ordered the Ten Commandments displayed in school.

The Ten Commandments must be displayed in Louisiana classrooms under requirement signed into law

The law is already being challenged by a lawsuit.

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