A proposed elective Bible course that was under consideration by a Georgia school district has reportedly been scrapped after atheists complained that its creation would pose a violation of the separation of church and state.
Officials with Oconee County Schools were reportedly considering a proposal to partner with a local Christian organization to launch an optional, for-credit course aimed at better helping students understand the Bible. The class, which was set to be taught by the Oconee County Christian Learning Center, would have been held off-campus during school hours.
According to the Oconee County Christian Learning Center, the 18-week-long course would have been an hour and a half in length each week and would have included “relevant and rigorous” content. While the classes were set to launch in 2016, that’s no longer the case following a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group.
The activist organization sent a letter to the school district in September, detailing its concerns over the Bible course and calling the proposed partnership with the Oconee County Christian Learning Center unconstitutional, as The Christian Post reported.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits public school sponsorship or involvement in devotional school instruction,” the letter read, in part. “Just as Oconee County Schools cannot teach the bible as truth or creationism as science, it cannot give credit to students who receive those lessons outside schools.”
The letter also claimed other illegal activities had unfolded at Oconee County Schools, including one alleged incident in which a student was purportedly tormented for not taking part in the Lord’s Prayer at the behest of a basketball coach.
In a statement published on Nov. 11, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said the organization received news that plans for the Bible class had been scrapped, and its leaders said they were content with that decision.
“The various incidents taking place in the Oconee school district are alarming,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the atheist group, said in a statement. “We’re glad that we’ve been able to push back, on the partnership, as well as the praying, which also seems to have paused after our complaint.”
Last summer, local pastors had expressed support for the Bible course, citing the need to help students refocus themselves on moral teachings, though some supporters of the initiative said that students might have opted to take the course for multiple reasons, including simply gaining a greater scholarly understanding of the Bible.
“Our society has lost its moral compass and I believe that by offering Bible courses it will help direct those students … to find that compass and help turn our society around,” Rob Pray of Bethabara Baptist told the Oconee Enterprise.
While the Freedom From Religion Foundation is just now responding to the Oconee County Board of Education’s decision not to allow the Bible course, the Oconee County Christian Learning Center explained back in September why the request was denied. Among the reasons was the notion that allowing kids to leave campus for the Bible course would open up the floodgates for other groups to make similar requests for courses aligned with their ideology.
“The BOE was concerned that by allowing students to leave for Bible instruction, that it would allow any group to come in and request the same opportunity,” the learning center wrote on its Facebook page. “The OCCLC countered that concern with the belief that the BOE would make any future requests to go through the same requirements that the OCCLC has done (named a 501(c)(3) organization, secured accreditation, hired a certified teacher, obtained insurance, etc.).”
For now, the issue is settled.
(H/T: Christian Post)
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