Britain King James Bible
Associated Press

The zealots are coming for the schools.

Teach the Judaeo-Christian bible in public schools, they say. The elective would provide historical context about U.S. history and culture, they allege. 

It's all pretext for a zero-sum battle for souls and minds waged by the right wing, an over-represented bloc in Iowa's GOP-run Legislature.

Don't believe us? Pitch them an elective on the Quran and see how they take it.

Proponents of House File 2031 love to quote George Washington and his line about a "righteous" people. They see the U.S. as a distinctly Judaeo-Christian creation, while conveniently ignoring the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution. 

A central claim among those pushing this end-run on constitutional norms is that the bible is a hugely influential text. No argument there. The collection of Bronze Age and Iron Age parables and philosophical teachings is among a handful of publications that have shaped civilizations. 

But intent is everything here. And the bill's proponents haven't hidden their real motivations. Roughly one-third of Iowa's public schools already offer comparative religion studies, which include Christian teachings. But that's just too objective for those with no tolerance for ideas conflicting with their own. No, this bill's entire intent is to authorize preaching in the classroom.

Any lay historian knows that the country's framers explicitly rejected the establishment of a state religion. Instead, they cribbed from Enlightenment giants, such as Locke and Rousseau, for an intellectual framework. These thinkers did work within a distinctly Christian cultural context. But throughout their work resides an outright rejection of politics commingled with religion. Theirs is a philosophical reality framed by centuries of corrupt theocratic dictatorships lording over Europe. It's the response to decades of senseless, bloody wars between Catholics and protestants. It's the reaction of men keenly aware that a politically dominant religious order universally stomps on outsiders.

The U.S. is not a Christian nation. It is, by design and law, a secular nation constructed by Christians. This is a key difference.

But proponents of bill's similar to HF 2031 have twisted history already in states such as Arizona, Kentucky and Texas. They've tapped false narratives, and an intensely myopic understanding of Enlightenment thinking, to hammer through legislation like what's now sitting in Iowa Legislature. In each instance, it's the result of all-Republican governance, where members of the party's right-wing spend their time trying to out-conservative each other.

Even for the most stalwart believers, the flaws inherent within HF 2031 should be apparent. It's not clear which version of the bible would be taught. It essentially provides a public school teacher license to preach on the taxpayer dole. That might be all well and good if, say, that teacher shares your beliefs. No doubt, it becomes less so when the lecturer isn't on your team.

And that, right there, is the trouble with any government picking religious winners and losers. One's view of the universe and their own mortality are, at the end of the day, highly personal matters. 

HF 2031 is pretext for an assault on a necessarily secular society. It's cloaked in a fairy tale posing as legitimate history. It's an attack on the very foundations on which this country sits. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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