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Idaho says no to religious books in the classroom

September 19, 2011 |  2:33 pm

Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles TimesI don't know what the religious right spends on public relations, but some school officials are doing their work for them -- by earnestly overinterpreting legal restrictions against official prayer in public schools.

The latest example is a battle between the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative public-interest law firm, and the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. The commission threatened to revoke the charter of a school if it used any "religious document or text" -- including the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Koran and the Bible -- or even made those works available in the classroom.

The commission said it was acting according to a provision in the state Constitution that says: "No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article." Taken literally, the Constitution as well as the Bible would be excluded. Taken seriously, only proselytizing would be forbidden. "Shall be used" suggests that interpretation.

The Idaho case involves the state Constitution, but more often it's the 1st Amendment that is wrongly used to justify religion-free classrooms. In banning official school prayer, the U.S. Supreme Court didn't outlaw the study of the Bible (or the Koran, for that matter) as literature or for its historical significance. School administrators who don't understand this provide ammunition to religious conservatives who sniff a secular conspiracy in the schools.

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--Michael McGough

Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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