Seats in empty lecture hall.
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This Week in God, 2.2.19

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at Donald Trump’s unexpected endorsement of legislation to allow “Bible Literacy” classes in American public schools. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump gave his blessing Monday to lawmakers in several states who are pushing legislation to allow Bible literacy classes in public schools.

“Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” Trump wrote in a morning tweet. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

As is often the case, the president’s missive followed on the heels of a segment that aired on Fox News’ morning program.

In this case, it’s important to emphasize that Trump, whether he knew this or not, was referring to proposed legislation at the state level, not the federal level, which may never actually become law. Presidents have no formal role to play in state-based education policy.

That said, there is also a degree of irony to Trump weighing on the subject: those who see “II Corinthians,” and think it says, “Two Corinthians,” probably shouldn’t be promoting the virtues of biblical literacy.

But what struck me as especially notable was the president’s rhetorical question: “Starting to make a turn back?” It was a reminder that for Trump, making America “great again,” means taking deliberate steps backwards. In this case, the Republican appears to have in mind public-school classrooms that promote the religious views of his conservative allies.

For the record, there’s nothing necessarily problematic – legally or scholarly – with public schools providing secular courses on religious history or the literary significance of religious texts. That said, as my friend Rob Boston explained this week, “So-called ‘Bible literacy’ courses may look all right on the surface, but you don’t have to probe too deeply to expose serious problems. Often, these courses are just a cover to bring a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible into public schools. Essentially, they’re Sunday School lessons masquerading as legitimate instruction.”

It’s likely the public will soon hear more about these courses, with or without the White House’s assistance. As USA Today recently reported, “The proposals are getting more attention because they’re linked to a common source: an initiative called Project Blitz coordinated by conservative Christian political groups.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* An especially difficult story for the Roman Catholic Church: “A Vatican official who handles sexual abuse cases for the Catholic Church has quit two months after being accused of sexual abuse.”

* Conservative media sure did get worked up about this one: “The House Committee on Natural Resources is reportedly seeking to have the words ‘so help you God’ removed from the oath recited by witnesses who testify before the panel, according to a proposal obtained by Fox News.”

* This was a case that had drawn Trump’s attention: “The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to take up the appeal of a Washington state high school football coach who lost his job after he refused to stop praying on the field immediately after games.”

* I’m noting this  Politico report without comment: “White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s presidency is part of a higher calling. ‘I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,’ Sanders said during an interview with Christian Broadcast Network News. ‘And that’s why he’s there, and I think he has done a tremendous job in supporting a lot of the things that people of faith really care about.’”