From Florida to Texas, the public school system has a new student in its classroom. MAGA has strapped on its backpack and sharpened its pencil, arriving at your local school at an alarming rate.
With the Supreme Court of the United States now leaning more conservative than over the last 90 years, red states with super-majorities feel emboldened to pass legislation establishing religious practices in public schools.
There are other issues for which MAGA is using its rigid, religious principles to thwart legal precedents, such as women’s reproductive health and LGBTQ+ rights. However, public schools have been a target for MAGA ever since Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in 1954.
Until the Brown decision, the mantra of “separate but equal” ruled communities primarily within Southern states. The reaction to the Brown decision was swift, with many school systems shutting down rather than complying with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, residents chose to close local public schools after the “Little Rock Nine” made their way to class in September 1957. (Note: Good Faith Media will release later this summer a narrative podcast about Second Baptist Church in downtown Little Rock. The church’s story intersects with this pivotal moment in U.S. history.).
Today, American students and families face a new attack on their civil liberties. While these attacks do not equate to Jim Crow segregation, the attitudes behind them perpetuate evil mindsets of the past.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has expanded his assault on LGBTQ+ students and their families by signing laws requiring bathrooms to be gender specific, banning gender-affirming care and expanding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” to include “classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity [which] will be prohibited from pre-K through the eighth grade.”
In Missouri, state legislators passed a bill allowing public schools to offer elective courses on the Bible. The bill, filed by Senator Karla May, a St. Louis Democrat, allows school systems to offer classes that include but are not limited to the “Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible” and the “New Testament of the Bible.”
May told the Kansas City Star, the Bible is “one of the greatest history books that I’ve ever read. I wanted other people who are, you know, receiving faith to see it in a different way. You get me? Culturally, language, styles of clothes. How did it impact the living conditions of people? You know, I want it to be not a myth.”
While May’s motives may have been genuine, the bill creates a variety of problems.
First, the Bible is not a “history” book per se. It is a book about a specific group of people within history told through a theological lens.
Second, who will be qualified to teach these Bible classes? Will school systems be forced to hire local ministers to teach the classes? Or will public-school faculty now need religious training?
Third, what “historical theological” lens will be used to teach the lessons? How will theological questions be covered since these ideas have different meanings for different traditions? How will the school systems handle proselytizing in the classroom?
Fourth, it prioritizes and privileges one sacred text over all others, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment.
Overall, this is not a good idea. If students and their parents want to learn more about the Bible, then let them learn about it at home and in their places of worship.
Finally, in Texas, the state legislature entertained two bills opening the door for Christian nationalism to enter the classrooms.
The first bill allows “school districts to employ chaplains, who, unlike school counselors, are not required to be certified by the State Board of Educator Certification.” The bill passed both the House and Senate and is now awaiting Governor Greg Abbott’s signature.
Why do legislators want to move away from requiring certification for counselors by the State Board? Will chaplains be required to be endorsed by a religious body? Will chaplains from other traditions be employed? What happens if chaplains begin to proselytize in schools?
Texas legislators also entertained a bill requiring all school systems to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom. Thankfully, the legislators ran out of time to see the bill’s passage through this session. However, the bill will be back next session.
Because similar bills are being introduced all over the country in states with conservative majorities, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidelines for “Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.”
BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman praised the new guidelines: “The government should never tell students how, when or whether to pray. The U.S. Department of Education’s new guidance does a good job protecting students of all faiths and students who don’t practice a faith. It’s clear that the Biden administration understands the vital role that public schools play in ensuring faith freedom for all students.”
Religious conservatives, many of them MAGA supporters, desire a return to an era of white supremacy (white conservative Christians controlling all facets of government and culture) and segregation.
People of good faith need to stand against such misguided ideals and actions. We need to advocate for inclusion, justice and freedom for all.
We need to shut the school doors to Christian nationalism, because opening the doors to MAGA ideas and principles will lead the country down a dark and dangerous road that none of us should travel.
Therefore, let’s keep religious freedom and the separation of church and state as foundational principles for preserving our democracy, so that every citizen is able to worship – or not to worship – as their conscience dictates.
CEO of Good Faith Media.