National News

Oklahoma Schools Required to Teach Bible, Ten Commandments

The Oklahoma Capitol is seen in Oklahoma City Sept. 30, 2015. Oklahoma’s chief education officer announced June 27, 2024, that Oklahoma schools are required to incorporate the Bible and the Ten Commandments in their curriculums, effective immediately, just days after the state Supreme Court ruled a proposed Catholic charter school was unconstitutional. (CNS photo/Jon Herskovitz, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The Ten Commandments are getting a lot of attention these days.

A week after Louisiana passed a law requiring public school classrooms in the state to display the Ten Commandments, Oklahoma’s superintendent of public schools announced in a memo that all state schools are required to incorporate the Bible and the Ten Commandments in their curriculums for grades 5 through 12.

The announcement by Republican State Superintendent Ryan Walters said “immediate and strict compliance is expected” to this new policy.

“The Bible is an indispensable historical and cultural touchstone,” he said in a statement. “Without basic knowledge of it, Oklahoma students are unable to properly contextualize the foundation of our nation which is why Oklahoma educational standards provide for its instruction.”

This order, issued on June 27, just eight days after the Louisiana governor signed the law about Ten Commandments’ displays in classrooms, was immediately criticized by civil rights groups that said it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

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

The Oklahoma Education Association said in a statement that Walters “cannot usurp local control and compel education professionals to violate the Constitution.” The group pointed out that the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently decided that school districts have the right to choose which books are available in their libraries and classrooms and “a memo from the State Department of Education does not change that ruling.”

Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for state Attorney General Gentner Drummond, told The Associated Press that Oklahoma law already explicitly allows Bibles in the classroom and lets teachers use them in instruction.

He said it’s not clear if Walters has the authority to mandate that schools teach the Ten Commandments or the Bible, noting that state law says individual school districts have the exclusive authority to decide on instruction, curriculum, reading lists, instructional materials and textbooks.

The superintendent’s memo was issued two days after the state’s Supreme Court ruled to block the first publicly funded religious charter school in the country, ordering the state to rescind its contract with St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.

At the state board of education meeting June 27, Walters described the court’s decisions as “one of the worst” rulings it has made, and he pledged to “fight back” stressing that this case could likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He told the educators that the argument about separation of church and state violating the Constitution is untrue.

“You’re not going to find the separation of church and state in the Constitution. It’s not there. You’re not going to see the founders describe religion in this way. But what you are seeing is a court that lacks an understanding of the Constitution. And we are prepared to challenge this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to make sure that religious liberty is protected in the state of Oklahoma and that parents have all options available.”