Oklahoma now requires Bible instruction in every public school—here’s what that means


Oklahoma is now requiring public schools to incorporate Bible lessons, effective immediately. The state’s top education official ignited the ire of civil rights groups, other activists, and parents when he ordered public schools to begin incorporating the Bible into lesson plans for students in grades 5-12.

Republican State Superintendent Ryan Walters recently announced the new mandate at a State Board of Education meeting, which will include Bible instruction for all students in grades 5-12, calling the collection of religious texts an “indispensable historical and cultural touchstone.”

“It’s crystal clear to us that in the Oklahoma academic standards under Title 70 on multiple occasions, the Bible is a necessary historical document to teach our kids about the history of this country, to have a complete understanding of Western civilization, to have an understanding of the basis of our legal system,” Walters said.

Along with required lessons about the Bible and the Ten Commandments, each 5-12 classroom in the state will be required to have a Bible, with educators mandated to place emphasis on the Bible’s influence in history and literature.

“We see multiple figures whether we’re talking about the Federalist Papers, constitutional conventional arguments, and Martin Luther King Jr. who used it as a tremendous impetus for the Civil Rights Movement and tie many of those arguments back to the Bible,” he said.

But he also noted that the Bible will be woven into other subjects, including math and science, to its influence on leading thinkers and ideas. Biblical instruction might also be offered in younger grades when applicable.

Is this actually legal?

“The Bible is an indispensable historical and cultural touchstone,” he added. “Without basic knowledge of it, Oklahoma students are unable to properly contextualize the foundation of our nation. This is not merely an educational directive but a crucial step in ensuring our students grasp the core values and historical context of our country.”

However, Oklahoma state law says that individual school districts have the exclusive authority to create and shape curriculum, reading lists, instructional materials and textbooks.

The order is could be challenged in court by First Amendment groups who believe the order may violate the Establishment Clause that prohibits the government from “establishing” a religion.

Walters, a self-identified Christian conservative and former history teacher, told NBC News that teachers who go against the mandate will face “repercussions,” which could include revocation of their teaching license. That process requires a vote by the Oklahoma State Board of Education, which Walters chairs.

He believes conservative Supreme Court justices appointed by former president Donald Trump will help uphold the ruling, telling the outlet that Trump “helped provide a path for us to be able to do this as states.” He added that if Trump wins a second term in November, “it will help us move the ball forward, even more so than this.”

Oklahoma isn’t the only state attempting to mandate religion in public schools

Louisiana became the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom. The legislation, presented by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, was signed into law on June 26. The law requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities.

During the last year, book bans have spiked across the U.S. Data released earlier this year by the American Library Association highlights the growing battle libraries and schools face over book bans.

The number of books targeted by critics surged 65% from 2022 to 2023, according to the data published in March. The ALA recorded 4,240 unique book titles targeted for removal or restriction in schools and libraries across the U.S. in 2023, topping the previous record of 2,571 unique titles in 2022. Approximately 47% of the titles targeted were by or about the LGBTQ community and/or people of color.

What people are saying about the Oklahoma Bible mandate

The move has been criticized by religious groups and civil rights advocates alike, including the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Legal experts question whether the mandate could be held up in a court of law, given that the state allows for individual districts to determine curriculum, reading lists, instructional materials, and textbooks in their schools.

Andy Fugitt, an attorney for the Oklahoma Center for Educational Law, told the Associated Press that the move has prompted numerous calls from districts questioning Walters’ mandate, noting that it’s likely to be challenged in court by First Amendment groups advocating for the separation of church and state.

The Oklahoma Education Association, a nonprofit educational organization, said in a statement that teaching about religion and the Bible in a historical context is permissible, but “teaching religious doctrine is not permissible.”

“Public schools cannot indoctrinate students with a particular religious belief or religious curriculum,” they noted. “The State Superintendent cannot usurp local control and compel education professionals to violate the Constitution.” 

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, noted in a statement that “public schools are not Sunday schools,” adding, “This is textbook Christian Nationalism: Walters is abusing the power of his public office to impose his religious beliefs on everyone else’s children. Not on our watch.”





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