US State Superintendent orders Bibles to be studied in every Oklahoma classroom due to historical importance

By Chris Eyte |
U.S. State Superintendent orders Bibles for learning in every classroom in Oklahoma despite the likelihood of legal challenges by opponents
A screenshot of the video announcement by Ryan Walters, Oklahoma State’s Superintendent for Public Instruction | X (formerly known as Twitter) by Ryan Walters

Every school classroom in Oklahoma will teach about the Bible under a new directive by the State’s Superintendent, who pledges that he is ready to fight any legal challenges from opponents against his plan. 

Republican Ryan Walters, Oklahoma State’s Superintendent for Public Instruction, and responsible for the oversight of elementary and secondary schools, made the controversial announcement on Thursday (June 27).

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Walters strongly inferred that the decision had been made in opposition to the “radical left” he accused of wanting to “rewrite history in our classrooms.”

Walters outlined his reasoning in a video recorded during a State Board of Education meeting, published on X. He said his staff had been looking at the statute and academic standards in Oklahoma, and came to a “crystal clear” conclusion about the importance of the Bible. 

“The Bible is a necessary historical document to teach our kids about the history of this country, to have a complete understanding of western civilisation, to have an understanding of the basis of our legal system and, as frankly we are talking about the Bible, one of the most foundational documents used for the constitution and birth of our country,” said Walters.

“We also find major points in history that reference the Bible. We see multiple figures, rather we are talking about the Federalist papers, constitutional conventional arguments, and Martin Luther King junior, who used it as a tremendous impetus for the Civil Rights Movement. In time, many of those arguments go back to the Bible.”

Walters himself worked as a history teacher at McAlester High School in his hometown of McAlester for eight years, and also taught at MillWood High Schools in Oklahoma City.  He was named an Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Finalist in 2016 and later became Secretary of Public Education in Sept. 2020 under Governor Kevin Stitt. 

Married to Katie, with whom he shares four children, Walters believed in his announcement that “it is essential our kids have an understanding of the Bible in its historical context.”

“So we will be issuing a memo today that every school district will adhere to, which is that every teacher in every classroom in the State will have a Bible in the classroom and will be teaching from the Bible in the classroom, to ensure that this historical understanding is there for every student in the State of Oklahoma, in accordance with our academic standards and State law.”

The Oklahoman daily newspaper reported that the decision looked likely to face a court challenge. This is an outcome, the newspaper wrote, “that the superintendent has previously welcomed in his quest to bring Oklahoma’s education system in line with his politically conservative, religiously Christian interpretation of state law.”

The memo from Walters reportedly stated that Oklahoma’s Education Department could provide teaching materials for schools to enable Bible teaching. But the Oklahoman queried which Bible version would be given to schools and who would provide funding. 

“Critics of the plan have argued that Oklahoma's Constitution specifically forbids spending public funds for a religious purpose, and that his directive would violate that law,” the Oklahoman reported.  

Phil Bacharach, spokesman for Attorney General Gentner Drummond, told the newspaper that Bibles were already used in the curriculum under current legislation. “Oklahoma law already explicitly allows Bibles in the classroom and enables teachers to use them as a part of instruction," Bacharach reportedly said.

The relationship between religion and school education is a contentious issue in Oklahoma. 

On Tuesday (June 25), Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against the approval of public charter school status to St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, following a petition filed by the State’s Republican attorney general, Gentner Drummond. 

The school had successfully applied to Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board to be administered by the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. It would have allowed the Catholic faith to be applied into “every aspect of the school”, according to the original application. 

In the concluding remarks, the court’s judges ruled that the charter school is a public school under Oklahoma’s law.

“As such, a charter school must be nonsectarian. However, St. Isidore will evangelize the Catholic faith as part of its school curriculum while Sponsored by the State,” said the judges in the concluding remarks. 

“This State's establishment of a religious charter school violates Oklahoma statutes, the Oklahoma Constitution, and the Establishment Clause.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the court’s overturning of the Board’s decision “a win for the separation of church and state.”

“The decision affirms what we already knew: A religious school can’t be a public school, and a public school can’t be religious,” said ACLU in a press release.

“Despite warnings from the Oklahoma attorney general, education groups, and civil rights organizations that public schools—including charter schools—cannot legally teach a religious curriculum or discriminate against students and employees, the Virtual Charter School Board approved St. Isidore’s application and entered into an agreement allowing the school to begin operating for the upcoming school year.

"Today, in ordering the state board to rescind its contract with St. Isidore, the Oklahoma Supreme Court sent a pointed message: Our public schools are for education, not evangelizing.”

However, the State Superintendent has opposed the ruling, saying on X the same day (June 25) that he held the firm belief that “once again” the Oklahoma Supreme Court “got it wrong.”

“The words ‘separation of church and state’ do not appear in our Constitution, and it is outrageous that the Oklahoma Supreme Court misunderstood key cases involving the First Amendment and sanctioned discrimination against Christians based solely on their faith. Oklahomans have demanded school choice not religious targeting,” Walters said.

“I agree with the dissent because nothing about the State of Oklahoma contracting for educational services for students in the form of a charter school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the enrollment demand at St. Isidore proves that Oklahoma parents want more choices for their kids’ educations – not fewer.”

The ruling subsequently “cannot and must not stand,” according to Walters who pledged a legal challenge. 

“There will be additional legal action in support of those parents and the millions of Oklahomans who believe deeply in religious liberty, and I will never stop fighting for Oklahomans’ constitutional, God-given right to express their religious belief.”