The Inter-Religious Council of Linn County is celebrating its 25th year of existence this year. It was founded in 1993 “to provide the means for all people of all faiths to promote understanding and respect for one another …” With this mission in mind, we respectfully oppose House File 2031.
Introduced recently in the Iowa House, the bill would establish “elective social studies courses” which would include: “(1) A course on the Hebrew Scriptures, (2) A course on the New Testament of the Bible, and (3) A course on the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible.”
We applaud the representatives’ interest in religion. All members of the Inter-Religious Council are devoted members to the nine faith traditions that are represented on our board of directors: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Humanist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and Unitarian Universalist. Religion obviously is important to us.
But we oppose this bill because we don’t believe it can be implemented impartially, or practically, or professionally. In all likelihood, the course would not be taught by professionally trained Biblical scholars, a point well-made by Hector Avalos et al in “Why we don’t support religious scripture bill” (The Gazette, Feb. 4), but rather by high school social studies teachers.
While I imagine that a rabbi like our own Todd Thalblum could teach a dynamite course on the Hebrew Scriptures, I don’t think there are enough rabbis or professionally trained Jews in Iowa who could teach a course in all the school districts that might demand it.
The bill — and I encourage you to read it for yourselves — is full of strange things, such as not requiring students to use a specific translation of the Bible, but whatever text of the Bible they want to. I grew up as a Southern Baptist in Texas, where the King James Bible was the first and last word in Bibles. But when I went to a Quaker college, the Old Testament professor — a graduate of Harvard Divinity School — required that all students use the Revised Standard Version, so that we would all be singing from the same hymnal, so to speak. There are a lot of bad and unauthorized translations of the Bible that students could bring to school.
Another odd part of the bill appoints a “school improvement advisory committee” to “authorize the display of historic artifacts, monuments, symbols and texts” in conjunction with the class. Are we in for another Ten Commandments, Roy Moore style, to be placed on school grounds?
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The course ostensibly wants to teach students the importance of the Bible for Western Civilization: “the influence of the Bible on law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values, and culture.” I think that if students really wanted to understand what is going on the world, they would have to know something about the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims I meet invariably know more about Christianity than Christians know about Islam. Our own Imam Hassan Selim taught a great course in Cedar Rapids on the Prophet a couple of years ago, sponsored by the Inter-Religious Council.
So, a course on world religions would probably be more valuable to Iowa students who are mainly exposed to Christianity, and Protestant or Catholic Christianity at that. Let’s leave the Bible to our churches to teach in their Sunday Schools or parochial schools.
The Inter-Religious Council invites you to attend its “Know Your Neighbor” series Monday at 6:45 at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, where you can learn from representatives of humanism, Hinduism and Islam. This is how we can understand our world.
• Charles Crawley is president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County. Comments: www.irclc.org/contact-us.html