Teach the Ten Commandments in Virginia

This week in Virginia, a judge is considering the legality of posting of the Ten Commandments in a public school. The Roanoke Times reports that Judge Michael Urbanski has indicated that he will order the case into mediation between the ACLU and the local school board because of the financial cost to the school district.

He suggested a Solomon-like compromise whereby the two sides agree to censor the first four commandments, which are more explicitly religious, and leave the other six commandments.

I have a better idea. Forget posting the Ten Commandments on a display that no student will even look at, much less, read. Instead of treating it like some kind of patriotic wallpaper, make sure teachers in the ENTIRE state of Virginia teach about the Ten Commandments AS EXPECTED in the state’s academic standards.

The 2008 Virginia academic standards for World History expect students to “demonstrate knowledge of ancient river valley civilizations, including those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus River Valley, and China and the civilizations of the Hebrews, Phoenicians, and Nubians, by… [among other things] explaining the development of religious traditions, [and] describing the origins, beliefs, traditions, customs, and spread of Judaism.

That would pretty much cover the Ten Commandments (and a whole lot more).

In addition to this, the Virginia Department of Education lists as “Essential Knowledge” that students are expected to know “the essential beliefs of Judaism” (WHI.3d.Q1) and how Judaism influenced Western civilization (WHI.3d.Q2). Additionally, students are to learn about “beliefs, traditions, and customs of Judaism” (WHI.3d.B) as well as the “Ten Commandments, which state moral and religious conduct” (WHI.3d.B.3).

Virginia has 1,245,340 students. In the course of their education, ALL OF THEM are expected to learn the Ten Commandments! Symbolism can be wonderful. But, given the choice between symbolism and substance, I’ll take substance any day.

Here’s my call to action: Every church in Virginia should make sure its local schools are actually teaching what is already expected regarding the Ten Commandments. In my experience, too many teachers are afraid to do it even though their academic standards expect it.

Gateways to Better Education offers a three-hour professional development seminar that equips public school teachers, in every state, how to legally and appropriately teach about the Bible and Christianity across the curriculum. Click on the link for more information on bringing Faith, Freedom & Public Schools to your community.

Eric Buehrer is the president of Gateways to Better Education and an occasional blogger at the BreakPoint Blog.


Academic, Not Devotional
Kevin and Carol, thanks for expressing your thoughts. The important thing for people to remember is that religious subjects are perfectly appropriate in a public school setting when treated academically, not devotionally.

In response to your comment, Kevin, (“Let's say you live in a district that becomes dominated by Muslims. Should they, just because they've become the majority, be able to indoctrinate your kids in the ways of Islam?”) the point of including a religious topic is not so people feel included but because it is academically relevant.

As for your comment, Carol, "teaching the Ten Commandments is fine, but what about the Five Pillars of Islam?" The fact of the matter is that Virginia State Standards do include this in its World History Standards:

"WHI.8 The student will demonstrate knowledge of Islamic civilization from about 600 to 1000 A.D.(C.E.) by describing the origin, beliefs, traditions, customs, and spread of Islam."

Unfortunately, many teachers feel more comfortable teaching about religions other than Judaism or Christianity because it aligns with a multicultural perspective. However, they feel like they are somehow proselytizing when teaching robustly about Judaism and Christianity.
Good points, Carol. Many of our fellow Christians tend to think of the establishment clause as a pain in the behind. The thing is, it doesn't just stop us from imposing our religion on others. It's also what (theoretically, anyway) keeps such impositions from happening to us.

Let's say you live in a district that becomes dominated by Muslims. Should they, just because they've become the majority, be able to indoctrinate your kids in the ways of Islam? Or what if you're an evangelical who lives in an area that becomes heavily populated by immigrants from the south, and one day your child comes home and reports that the teacher led the class in reciting the Rosary?

And the answer isn't "just move." That's not practical or affordable for everyone. Moreover, why should you have to move to avoid having a religion you don't believe in instilled in your kids? This is America.

Just as people ought to support the rights of suspects partly because any of us could be a suspect some day, we Christians need to support the establishment clause, if for no other reason than the fact that what we think ties our hands is also what protects us against violations such as the scenarios above.

We can't demand our constitutional rights while disrespecting someone else's.
I'm delighted with the article, and hope that Virginia is able to "get it right". However, I have to sound an alarm about a "slippery slope", here. For the same reasons I'm against formal prayer in schools, I'd have to vote against this program. Teaching the 10 Commandments is fine, but what about the Five Pillars of Islam? Or, the structure of the Druids? You know it (whether you want to admit it or not) that as soon as the "Six Commandments" are introduced, the Muslims and whoever else has an axe to grind are going to want THEIR tenents taught, as well. What then? I'm glad I don't have kids in school any more.
Teachers, be good employees!
Teachers need to follow the standards set by their education boards and Gateways To Better Education is doing a great job training teachers and school faculty about their rights and permissible practices. Posting the commandments may be a flashpoint in news headlines but it's a smokescreen about what is really allowed and expected in our classrooms across the country! Keep up the great work, Eric, and the rest of us should thank God for GTBE!
Train Them Up
Great perspective on this issue. Posting of the commandments is just the tip of the iceburg. Teaching the history is far more important. The posting of the commandments won't mean much without the history behind them. Thanks Eric for bringing this into focus.

BreakPoint Blog