Oklahoma state superintendent orders schools to teach the Bible

Ryan Walters gestures while speaking in a suit
The directive from Oklahoma state Supt. Ryan Walters, pictured in 2022, drew immediate condemnation from civil rights groups and supporters of the separation of church and state. Some called it unconstitutional.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)
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Oklahoma’s top education official ordered public schools Thursday to incorporate the Bible into lessons for grades 5 through 12, the latest effort by conservatives to incorporate religion into classrooms.

The directive drew immediate condemnation from civil rights groups and supporters of the separation of church and state, with some calling it an abuse of power and a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The order sent to districts across Oklahoma by state Supt. Ryan Walters says adherence to the mandate is compulsory and “immediate and strict compliance is expected.”


“The Bible is an indispensable historical and cultural touchstone,” Walters, a Republican, said in a statement. “Without basic knowledge of it, Oklahoma students are unable to properly contextualize the foundation of our nation which is why Oklahoma educational standards provide for its instruction.”

Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public school classrooms. A legal challenge to its constitutionality is expected.

June 19, 2024

Oklahoma law already explicitly allows Bibles in the classroom and lets teachers use them in instruction, said Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for state Atty. Gen. Gentner Drummond.

But it’s not clear if Walters has the authority to mandate that schools teach it. State law says individual school districts have the exclusive authority to decide on instruction, curriculum, reading lists, instructional materials and textbooks.

The head of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized the directive as a clear violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from “establishing” a religion.

“We adamantly oppose any requirements that religion be forcefully taught or required as a part of lesson plans in public schools, in Oklahoma, or anywhere else in the country,” Adam Soltani said in a statement.

Under the law, all public K-12 classrooms and state-funded universities will be required to display a poster-sized version of the Ten Commandments.

June 24, 2024

“Public schools are not Sunday schools,” Rachel Laser, president and chief executive of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement. “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.”


The directive is the latest salvo in an effort by conservative-led states to target public schools: Louisiana has required them to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms, while others are under pressure to teach the Bible and ban books and lessons about race, sexual orientation and gender identity. This week the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked the state’s attempt to have the first publicly funded religious charter school in the country.

A former public school teacher who was elected to his post in 2022, Walters ran on a platform of fighting “woke ideology,” banning books from school libraries and getting rid of “radical leftists.”

He has clashed with leaders in both parties for his focus on culture-war issues such as transgender rights. In January he faced criticism for appointing a right-wing social media influencer to a state library committee.

Murphy writes for the Associated Press.