Legislation seeking to mandate use of the King James Bible as the primary text for all elective courses about the Old and New Testaments in Oklahoma public schools is the kind of bill lawmakers should reject early during the upcoming session. 

Senate Bill 1161, introduced by state Sen. George Burns, R-Pollard, is certain to draw legal challenges. While its author couched his proposal on a supposed need for historical accuracy, it prompts concerns about the establishment of an official state religion — the idea lends credence to the state's endorsement of a religious preference. 

We have no qualms about elective courses in public schools that use the Bible as a teaching tool or when the Bible constitutes the content of course curriculum. But there are many versions of the Bible — the Catholic Church adopted a version with seven more books in the Old Testament than the Bible used by most Protestant churches — but its use during the 18th century by the founders of this nation and the fact that it is in the public domain are not compelling reasons that would justify the state's endorsement of the King James Bible. 

Cherity Pennington, president of Oklahoma Library Association, said copies of the Bible and other religious texts can be found at most school libraries across the state. Decisions about what to add to library collections, she said, typically are guided by a school's curriculum needs and age appropriateness of materials.

The King James version of the Bible, for example, is more likely to be found in libraries at high schools because of its strong influence on English literature. Librarians at middle schools tend to stock easier-to-read versions for students who are studying religion as part of a sixth- or seventh-grade social studies course.

Many Europeans who fled to North America did so to escape persecution for religious beliefs or practices. The notion that people should be free to practice the religion of their own choosing without interference from the government is a fundamental principle of our constitutional republic. 

SB 1611 cuts against that freedom, which is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Passing this measure would be a step in the wrong direction.

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