State Supt. of Public Instruction Ryan Walters stoked the fires of controversy again Thursday after sending a memo to school superintendents requiring the bible to be added into instructional curriculum, including the Ten Commandments.

Walters said the directive, which applies for grades 5-12, is in alignment with educational standards approved in 2019, with which all districts must comply. He also said the State Department of Education “may supply teaching materials for the Bible, as permissible, to ensure uniformity in delivery.

“The Bible is an indispensable historical and cultural touchstone,” Walters said in a statement Thursday. “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.

“This is not merely an educational directive but a crucial step in ensuring our students grasp the core values and historical context of our country.”

A spokesperson for Gov Kevin Stitt said Oklahoma law, “already explicitly allows Bibles in the classroom and enables teachers to use them in instruction.”

The directive from Walters comes after recently being handed a defeat by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled a taxpayer funded, private and religiously based charter school is unconstitutional.

OSC said funding for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School is not permitted because the school is Catholic. Walters has stressed there will be further legal action on the verdict.

Walters’ directive drew a swift rebuke from some lawmakers and organizations, while others urged caution before acting. State Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) and Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa).

“(In) following this new directive from the State Superintendent of Education, we advise school districts to carefully review and follow existing state law when it comes to religious instruction in schools,” Provenzano said. “We know from the outcome of SQ 790 that Oklahomans are overwhelmingly against using public dollars to fund religious purposes. The Oklahoma Constitution is very clear on what is allowed when it comes to public education.

“Religious instruction should begin with and remain in the rightful hands of parents and guardians. Today’s directive feels like an unprecedented attempt from the State Superintendent to distract from the reported investigations into financial mismanagement of tax dollars meant to support our schools.”

Waldron said Walters should, “focus on running his department, not issuing ridiculous directives that are unconstitutional and don’t do anything to advance the goals he claims to be setting for Oklahoma public schools.”

The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK), a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said it was condemning the requirement as a “clear violation” of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

The organization said it’s not the first time it has opposed attempts to incorporate specific religious teachings in the classroom, noting CAIR-OK opposed Senator Loveless’s proposed Senate bill in 2015 incorporating a Bible class in public schools.

“Although we and the American Muslim community recognize the important historical and religious significance of the Bible, forcing teachers to use it and only it in their curriculum is inappropriate and unconstitutional,” said CAIR-OK Director Adam Soltani.“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.

“As the Constitution outlines, religious freedom allows for the academic instruction of religion in subjects such as geography, social studies, and history. To require religious scripture, regardless of which one it may be, to be incorporated into lessons in our schools, however, is a clear violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and infringes on the rights of our students and their families.

“Ryan Walters should reconsider his actions of using his position and influence to promote what appears to be a personal Christian Nationalist agenda, as it does not contribute to the advancement of our children’s education.”

Walters, however, said the Bible “is one of the most historically significant books and a cornerstone of Western civilization, along with the Ten Commandments. They will be referenced as an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like, as well as for their substantial influence on our nation’s founders and the foundational principles of our Constitution.”

Given the controversy surrounding the directive and potential legal actions that could arise, it’s unclear how schools districts serving students in Broken Arrow will proceed.

Christina Dixon, a spokesperson for the Broken Arrow Public Schools, says there is still time to review the measure’s language, “and assign our instructional experts to develop a plan for our district.”

Chris Payne, a spokesperson for Union Public Schools, said the school district has no comment on the directive at this time.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Watch reported that the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board – which is bring dissolved in favor of a new, larger board with more responsibility — plans to meet Friday in Broken Arrow at 10 a.m., according to a meeting schedule online. A message on the school’s website says its leaders will discuss next steps at the meeting.

Among the agenda items is voting on a resolution stating the school, due to the adverse court ruling, will delay accepting students until at least the 2025-26 school year, “as it seeks review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Oklahoma Watch also reported there was a joint statement from Archbishop Paul Coakley and Bishop David Konderla of the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma that expressing disappointment in the SCO charter school ruling. “We will consider all legal options and remain steadfast in our belief that St. Isidore would have and could still be a valuable asset to students, regardless of socioeconomic, race or faith backgrounds,” the statement said.