In June 2024, Oklahoma’s state superintendent mandated that public schools teach the Bible. In a familiar move, the justification is that the Bible is “a necessary historical document to teach our kids about the history of this country, to have a complete understanding of Western civilization, to have an understanding of the basis of our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.”

To be fair and balanced, the Bible is an important historical document, and I would go so far as to say that knowing about it (and other major religious texts) is essential to understanding world history. It is also important in my field, philosophy. While I teach at the college level, the same reasoning applies since I teach at a state school.

When I teach Ethics, Metaphysics, Modern and Introduction to Philosophy, I include Biblical content. For example, discussing the Medieval dispute over metaphysical universals requires discussing such topics as original sin and the Trinity. My colleagues also include the Bible in appropriate classes, the most obvious examples being classes on the Old and New Testaments. While K-12 education tends to be weak in the areas of philosophy and religion, the Bible should be covered in appropriate classes—along with other important religious texts. As such, I obviously have no objection against covering the Bible and other religious texts as historic, religious and philosophical documents in the context of academic study. Likewise, I have no objection against including historically important works of atheists, anarchists, and Marxists. These are all important to history and philosophy and should be included.

Naturally, there is always the practical challenge of determining what content to include in courses and we educators can only include a microscopic sliver of all the important works. Ideally, we should make this decision in a principled manner and not based on our own ideology or n0n-academic agenda. As an honest educator, I must admit that we do not magically uplink to the Platonic forms of education when picking our content and our values, biases and experience influence us despite our efforts to build an ideal curriculum. As I somewhat jokingly tell my students when they ask why I included certain philosophers, my response is that we usually teach what we were taught, and this probably goes back to some trivial reason for inclusion. For example, my Modern class is mostly made up of the philosophers that were in the Modern class I took. I did add Mary Wollstonecraft to the class because I had the notes from my Ethics class, and I added her to that class at the suggestion of my ex-wife. But, as noted above, the Bible seems to be an objectively important work. But so does the Communist Manifesto.

There are also concerns about how content should be taught, which is usually framed as a conflict between teaching and preaching (indoctrination). While the right regularly accuses educators of indoctrination, this is not what we do as professionals. And, as professors joke, if we can’t even get the students to read the syllabus or look up from their phones, we are not indoctrinating them to be Islamic Transgender Homosexual Feminist Woke Atheist Socialist Post Modern Tik Tok Marxist Fascist Migrants. As the meme goes, every accusation of the right is a confession. This mandate and numerous laws being passed governing education are clearly aimed at mandating the teaching of a set of values. That is, they are aimed at indoctrination. The right, if one reviews the laws and mandates, is not opposed to indoctrination. What they are opposed to is a lack of indoctrination in their values.

A supporter of this mandate might raise the obvious objection: the mandate does not state that biblical content will be taught as a religion but that it will be taught as an historical document. As such, the mandate is not a problem. While this does have some appeal, there are some problems with it. First, schools can already include the Bible as an historical document, hence there is no need for such a mandate. Second, the mandate is just about the Bible, which is clearly favoring the text of one religion over all others (and non-religious texts). Third, this reply is likely to be a bad-faith reply, since Mr. Walters professed views are quite clear.

While it is obvious why non-religious people and people of faiths other than Christianity would be concerned about these sorts of mandates (and laws), Christians should also be concerned. There are, of course, all the historical arguments made by the Founders for separating church and state. After all, they understood the dangers arising from combining secular power with theological power. They also understood the history of Europe, including the bloody conflicts between sects of Christianity. But there is also a very pragmatic concern. While Christianity is monotheistic, it is not monolithic and sects have been splitting off from it since the beginning. As such, when an official mandates that the Bible be taught, the question arises as to which version of the Bible (will it be yours?) and which interpretation of that Bible will be taught. So, while a person might applaud the mandate, they should not assume that what will be taught will match their version of the Bible or their interpretation. To be fair, a supporter might reasonably believe that this mandate is code for culture war values they probably agree with (such as anti-LGBT views, capitalism, white supremacy, 1800s era gender roles, and misogyny) and they are probably right. But Christians should be concerned that the version of the mandated Bible and its interpretation will conflict with their own faith. For example, Seventh Day Adventists and Catholics presumably do not want the faith of the other sect imposed upon their children in school. But some might see this as better than a lack of biblical lessons.

Of course, if someone wants their children to learn about the bible, most churches offer Sunday school classes and, of course, they have regular sermons that people can attend. As such, it would be absurd to argue that there is some critical lack of biblical education that the state has a compelling reason to address with a mandate.