Fabiola Santiago

If you want your kids to learn about the Bible, send them to church, Florida lawmakers | Opinion

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, debates on the Florida House floor on Feb. 21, 2018.
Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, debates on the Florida House floor on Feb. 21, 2018. House Photo

When I wanted my kids to learn to play the piano in addition to their ABCs, it didn’t occur to me to demand of government that teaching the most popular instrument in the world be part of the school curriculum.

It was important to me to expand my daughters’ public school education beyond chorus and band participation with formal, structured music education. So I took on extra work, prioritized piano-learning in my budget, and paid for private Saturday lessons. Other parents routinely do the same thing when they enroll their kids in learning experiences outside of school that they find useful, expansive, or complementary, be it sports, dance lessons or religious training at church.

So, why would Florida taxpayers now have to subsidize, for the evangelical Christians among us, the teaching of the Bible in public schools?

Indoctrination. Ideology. Fanaticism.

Plenty of charter and religious schools already offer Bible study. But that’s not good enough for those who want to Christianize the state. Sending their kids to Bible class, worshiping, believing doesn’t satisfy. They also want to evangelize the rest of us. In their view, what’s missing from our lives is Christ and our recognition that the Bible – the best-selling book of all time in the world – is the word of God.

And, they’re selling to the Florida Legislature that teaching the Bible and its impact on world history and cultures should be offered as part of the high school curriculum in every school district.

Grade school is not the place for Bible studies, but that didn’t stop a House education subcommittee this week from swiftly passing a bill to require all public schools to offer Bible class as an elective.

“The key word is elective in choice,” argued bill sponsor Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a former preacher, exorcist of demons, and a peculiar kind of Democrat from Jacksonville who doesn’t care for President Barack Obama but loves Donald Trump.

Daniels’ claim to national fame was her proclamation while preaching that she thanks God for slavery. “If it wasn’t for slavery, I might be somewhere in Africa worshiping a tree,” she said. That doesn’t seem to have hurt her credibility in Florida at all.

Fellow lawmakers took her proposal seriously.

“This is a public policy issue, not a worship issue,” Daniels insisted. “This is simply a literacy course.”

“Religion will not be pushed down their throats,” she added.

But one by one, that’s exactly what the backers of HB 195 did in the House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee over objections that, among other things, the measure may be unconstitutional and surely bring about costly lawsuits.

That we live in a country founded on the constitutional principle of religious freedom – which means that we can embrace any kind of religion or reject them all – was of no concern to lawmakers.

Or that Daniels and supporters couldn’t even answer the most basic question: What kind of Bible would you teach? The Catholic preferred version? The King James edition? The Greek and Hebrew texts? There are more than 60 dizzying versions in English alone.

And, asked Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, what about the study of other world religions represented in the population of the state of Florida?

“I don’t know how you can have religious neutrality if your course is focused on just one holy book,” Eskamani said.

But Daniels and supporters – including a religious “family” group that peddles conversion of LGBTQ kids – insisted that the Bible can be taught as “objective material.” And they’re modeling their Bible class proposal after one offered in Kentucky, where the governor promotes “Bring Your Bible to School Day.”

Gov. Bevin encourages students to participate in "Bring Your Bible to School Day" if they choose to do so on Oct. 5.

Lawmakers pushing God or the Bible is nothing new in Florida.

In fact, last year Daniels attracted national attention when she introduced another bill requiring every public school and every building used by district school boards in the state to prominently display the motto “In God We Trust.”

Her bill passed the House but failed to clear the Senate Education Committee. But that didn’t end there. The “In God We Trust” requirement was included in the spending bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

How’s that for shoving religion down Floridians’ throats?

No matter how it’s camouflaged, the Bible study legislation is nothing but another attempt to sneak evangelism into Florida’s secular public classrooms. As if the weary teachers and students of 2019 also needed to bring religious wars into the education equation.

To quote Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.…”

The chairman of the next education subcommittee to tackle the bill, appropriations, has made clear his support for Bible study. But Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, should instead focus on the real needs in classrooms and leave religion where it belongs: in the private sphere.

If you want your kids to learn about the Bible, send them to church.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”