We looked at what Oklahoma law says about teaching the Bible in schools
6 mins read

We looked at what Oklahoma law says about teaching the Bible in schools

Some have raised questions about what authority Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters has to implement specific curricula after issuing a directive requiring schools to include the Bible in lessons.

“Immediate and strict compliance is expected,” Walters said in a June 27 memo to school principals statewide.

Walters announced this week that he plans to overhaul the state’s academic standards in the social studies and has appointed a group of advisers that includes leaders of conservative think tanks and media personalities.

“The revised standards will include the inclusion of the Bible as a source of knowledge, which Superintendent Walters announced last week, and will also ensure that social studies reflect accuracy rather than political views,” the announcement reads.

We conducted research on state and federal laws and court decisions to verify Walters’ claims about what state law allows him to do and who has the legal authority to make decisions about curriculum.

Law: The Oklahoma State Superintendent has the authority to require that specific content be taught in public schools.
Source: Walters told NBC News that he has legal grounds to require the use of Bibles in the classroom and that teachers who fail to comply could lose their teaching licenses.
Fact Check: Mostly fake

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said Walters did not have the legal authority to require specific content to be taught by sending a memo to school districts.

State law gives local school districts sole authority to determine “instruction, curriculum, reading lists, and instructional materials and textbooks.”

The Oklahoma Board of Education, chaired by Walters, is responsible for adopting academic standards. These standards establish a basic framework for what students should know by the end of each school year, according to state law. The Board of Education also has the power to revoke teaching certificates for willful violations of state or federal laws.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education did not respond to Border questions about the legal basis for Walters’s authority to require schools to include the Bible in lessons.
-Brianna Bailey

Law: Oklahoma state law already allows the teaching of the Bible in public schools.
Source: “Oklahoma state law already expressly allows Bibles in classrooms and allows teachers to use them in teaching,” Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, said in statements to several media outlets.
Fact Check: Mostly true

In 2010, the Oklahoma Legislature passed and then-Governor Brad Henry signed a bill allowing public high schools to offer students elective courses in the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible to teach “students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, customs, oratory, and public policy.” The law also requires that the class maintain religious neutrality, be inclusive of students’ other religious perspectives, and not promote or disparage a particular religion or lack of religious belief or conflict with state and federal constitutions. This last part is a requirement for the law to be valid, as the Oklahoma Constitution explicitly prohibits the expenditure of taxpayer money and resources for religious purposes or instruction. When the Legislature attempted to remove this state constitutional prohibition via a 2016 ballot measure, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly rejected the attempt.
-Clifton Adcock

Law: Oklahoma academic standards require that the Bible be taught in the context of historical documents.
Source: “We have academic standards that tell our teachers you have to talk about the Bible in the context of the Mayflower Compact, the Birmingham Jail Letters, the Declaration of Independence,” Walters told Fox News.

State law prohibits the teaching of sectarian or religious doctrine in Oklahoma public schools, but permits the reading of Scripture. Current Oklahoma academic standards do not list the Bible as a required text for public instruction. The standards do not impose any specific curriculum or dictate how teachers should teach. The Bible is not listed as a teaching resource for historical documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Birmingham Jail Letters, or the Declaration of Independence.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.
-Maddy Keyes

Law: The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution do not mention the separation of church and state.
Source: “There is no mention of separation of church and state in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution,” Walters told PBS News.
Fact Check: True but misleading

It is true that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, but the Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The concept of “separation of church and state” has been used throughout American history, according to historical records. Thomas Jefferson said in an 1801 letter that the Establishment Clause was intended to create “a wall of separation between church and state.”

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the Establishment Clause also applies to the states.

Border contacted Walters, and a spokesman for the director confirmed that his statement was true.
-Jazz Wolfe

Evaluation system:
TRUE: Claim supported by factual evidence
Mostly true: A statement that is mostly true, but also contains some inaccuracies
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unconfirmed information.
True but misleading: A statement that is factually true but omits important details or context
Mostly false: A claim that is mostly false, but also contains some accurate details
FALSEHOOD: A claim that has no factual basis