Vince Wheeler: Adding religion studies could work

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 01:42 AM

You’ve gotta give state Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, some credit. The longtime General Assembly member from Denton certainly is not shy about creating a controversy. In fact, he’s the sponsor of two controversial pieces of legislation this session.
Bingham, who owns the Denton Orator newspaper and other businesses in that southeastern Davidson County town, proposes a bill allowing private schools to authorize certain members of the public to carry firearms on their campuses. State law currently prohibits the public from carrying firearms on all school properties. You may express your thoughts on that bill by clicking the current poll on the home page of the Enterprise’s website — hpe.com — or by submitting a 30-word Your View Poll response or a full-fledged letter to the editor to letterbox@hpe.com.
Additionally, Bingham has introduced a bill that would allow high schools to offer elective courses in Bible study (Old Testament, New Testament or a combination of both) from a historical perspective. That bill, of course, has raised eyebrows in the offices of the N.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Officials at the ACLU told the Enterprise that they have serious concerns about Bingham’s bill. I’d probably read that as lawsuit. Based on the ACLU official’s comment, the group seems to just have a negative view of any attempt to offer a religion course in public schools.
“Because religious belief is such a personal issue, we believe it’s a topic best left to the student’s parents, and not government bureaucrats or school officials,” Sarah Preston, policy director of N.C. ACLU, told the Enterprise.
Well, I’m all for leaving lots of things to parental instruction and guidance instead of “government bureaucrats or school officials.” But I also don’t have a problem with our public high schools offering religion courses as electives, even one about the Bible and Christianity, the Quran and Islam and the other major religions of the world and their sacred texts. But that’s only as long as the courses are taught in an academic manner, not in a style that in reality is religious proselytizing.
Bingham’s legislation, Senate Bill 138, doesn’t require a student to use a specific translation of the Hebrew texts or New Testament. It also mandates following federal and state laws regarding “religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of the students of the local school administrative unit.” The course also must not favor or “show hostility toward any particular religion, nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”
So, I don’t think Christian proselytizing is what Bingham has in mind. But I think he ought to make that crystal clear by rewriting his bill so it allows academic exploration of the world’s major religions and their sacred texts and not just Christianity and the Bible. In my view, greater knowledge of the world’s major religions by more people here — and everywhere — would help promote understanding and tolerance and also might help bridge some of the divides that endanger efforts to achieve world peace.
Perhaps Bingham, the state Legislature and the ACLU should give religion studies a chance.

vwheeler@hpe.com | 888-3517