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Schools (8/1/01)
Priest, pastor clash over Bible class

River parishes bureau

DONALDSONVILLE — A Roman Catholic priest and a non-denominational minister clashed Tuesday night at a School Board meeting over whether public schools in Ascension Parish should offer an elective Bible study class next year.

Rev. Joel LaBauve of St. Mark Catholic Church in Gonzales told School Board members that he hopes they do not offer a Bible course next year because he feels the Bible is a "book of faith" that can best be taught in the home and in church and that it is not a historical book.

Taking the opposite side of the argument, Pastor Scott Bledsoe of the Household of Faith in Gonzales said he thinks offering the course as an elective would be good for Ascension Parish students because of the Bible’s role in American history, law and government.

A third member in the audience, Gonzales resident Don Weinell, also spoke out against offering Bible study classes in Ascension.

Weinell, a non-Christian with two children who attend Gonzales Primary School, said he would be in favor of a comparative religions course so students can learn about all kinds of different faiths.

He warned the School Board to "slow down" before voting and to make sure that the course in question is legal and constitutional.

The course under discussion, created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum, is being taught in schools in Livingston and Ouachita parishes as well as Central High School in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Weinell gave School Board members a copy of a 20-page letter June 14 written by a group called People for the American Way Foundation to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education asking that body to recognize constitutional problems with the Bible course in question.

BESE ruled that school districts in Louisiana may make their own decisions about Bible study in schools.

Ascension Schools Superintendent Robert Clouatre said School Board attorney Jeff Diez has given him a legal opinion that says the course, taught as literature and history only, is legal.

LaBauve said that he thinks students in high school have a personal view of life still in a critical stage of development and therefore, Bible study or a course in comparative religions would be better offered in a university setting.

In a July 27 letter from LaBauve to Clouatre, the priest said, "To call the Bible a mere book of literature or of history is to demean and pervert its true nature." LaBauve also told School Board members that it would be very hard for any instructor to teach the course without referring in some way to a denomination.

Both LaBauve and Weinell said there are a different number of books in Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles, citing one example of bringing denominations into the course.

School Board member George Valentine Jr. said that he is amazed that people would speak out against a Bible study course.

"It astounds me that when you try to do something good for the students like this, people are against it," Valentine said. "This kind of course teaches our students what this nation was built on. I think we need it in our school system,"

School Board member Patricia Russo said she wants more questions answered about the course. She said members have not decided if the course would be offered only in high schools or in middle schools as well.

She also said she wants to know if the School Board plans on looking at other Bible study courses and not just the one presented by the Baton Rouge-based Christian organization, Louisiana Family Forum.

School Board members will vote on the issue at a future meeting.

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