Oklahoma’s State Superintendent Requires Public Schools to Teach the Bible

Oklahoma’s state superintendent on Thursday directed all public schools to teach the Bible, including the Ten Commandments, in an extraordinary move that blurs the lines between religious instruction and public education.

The superintendent, Ryan Walters, who is a Republican, described the Bible as an “indispensable historical and cultural touchstone” and said it must be taught in certain grade levels.

The move comes a week after Louisiana became the first state to mandate that public schools display the Ten Commandments in every classroom, which was quickly challenged in court. The Oklahoma directive could also be challenged and is likely to provoke the latest tangle over the role of religion in public schools, an issue that has increasingly taken on national prominence.

The efforts to bring religious texts into the classroom are part of a growing national movement to create and interpret laws according to a particular conservative Christian worldview.

Oklahoma had also sought to be the first state to authorize a religious charter school, which would have funneled taxpayer dollars to an online Catholic school slated to open in August. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against the school this week, but the decision is likely to be appealed.

Mr. Walters, a former history teacher who served in the cabinet of Gov. Kevin Stitt before being elected state superintendent in 2022, has emerged as a lightning rod of conservative politics in Oklahoma and an unapologetic culture warrior in education. He has battled over the teaching of race and gender identity, fought against “woke ideology” in public schools and at times targeted school districts and individual teachers.

In his announcement on Thursday, Mr. Walters called the Bible “a necessary historical document to teach our kids about the history of this country, to have a complete understanding of Western civilization, to have an understanding of the basis of our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.”

It was not immediately clear what the instruction would entail, or which grade levels would be included. In a memo to school district leaders, Mr. Walters cited fifth through 12th grades as an example. He also said that the state might supply teaching materials for the Bible to “ensure uniformity in delivery.”

His directive faced immediate pushback, including from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which also sued to stop the religious charter school in Oklahoma and the Ten Commandments law in Louisiana.

Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United, said the group was “ready to step in and protect all Oklahoma public school children and their families from constitutional violations of their religious freedom.”

“Public schools are not Sunday schools,” she said, adding, “public schools may teach about religion, but they may not preach any religion.”

Stacey Woolley, the president of the school board for Tulsa Public Schools, which Mr. Walters has threatened to take over, said she had not received specific instructions on the curriculum, but believed it would be “inappropriate” to teach students of various faiths and backgrounds excerpts from the Bible alone, without also including other religious texts.

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