June 27, 2024 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters’ announcement today he will require Oklahoma public schools to use the Bible in instruction:

Public schools are not Sunday schools. Oklahoma Superintendent Ryan Walters has repeatedly made clear that he is incapable of distinguishing the difference and is unfit for office. His latest scheme – to mandate use of the Bible in Oklahoma public schools’ curriculum – is a transparent, unconstitutional effort to indoctrinate and religiously coerce public school students.

This is textbook Christian Nationalism: Walters is abusing the power of his public office to impose his religious beliefs on everyone else’s children. Not on our watch. Americans United is ready to step in and protect all Oklahoma public school children and their families from constitutional violations of their religious freedom. It won’t be the first time: We’re already facing Walters and other state officials in court to stop the nation’s first religious public charter school.

Christian Nationalism is on the march across this country. It’s not just happening in Oklahoma; we’re seeing it from Texas to West Virginia, from Florida to Idaho. Just this week we filed a lawsuit with our allies to stop Louisiana from requiring public schools to display the Ten Commandments – something legislators in other states, including Oklahoma, have also proposed. Christian Nationalists and their lawmaker allies want to replace school counselors with religious chaplains; allow teachers and coaches to pray with students; teach Creationism in science classes; and ban books and censor curricula that feature LGBTQ+ people and racial and religious minorities.

Americans United will do everything in our power to stop Christian Nationalists like Ryan Walters from trampling the religious freedom of public school children and their families. This nation must recommit to our foundational principle of church-state separation before it’s too late. Public education, religious freedom and democracy are all on the line.

A long line of court decisions makes clear that strict constitutional requirements apply when attempting to teach the Bible in public school classrooms. In accordance with the Constitution, public schools may teach about religion but they may not preach any religion.

Study after study shows that when Christian Nationalists push for public school classes focused on the Bible, they fail to meet these constitutional requirements and end up religiously coercing students. Families whose religious freedom has been violated often have no choice but to challenge them in court.

Christian Nationalism is based on the myth that America was founded as a Christian nation. Core tenets of that myth appear in Walters' memo. Walters, a former history teacher, gets his history wrong in the memo launching this plan when he writes that “the Bible had a substantial influence on … the foundational principles of our Constitution.” The records from the Constitutional Convention show the Bible was almost never invoked. The Ten Commandments were never cited.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. www.au.org