In the wake of national debates about the teaching of evolution and sex education in the public schools, Christian conservatives in Kentucky are now mobilizing over the issue of calendar abbreviations.
Activists, along with the governor and other state politicians, have accused the State Board of Education of attempting to drive Christianity from the classroom through the use of secular notations, like BCE for “Before the Common Era,” in place of religious ones, like B.C. for “Before Christ.” The Western calendar counts years from the traditional birth of Jesus. The use of the notations B.C. and A.D. (anno Domini, Latin for “the year of the Lord”) has been avoided for more than a century by religious Jews who use the notations BCE and C.E. That practice has been gaining currency in some parts of the country in recent years.
At a public hearing last week, Christian groups turned out dozens of supporters who demanded that the board remove the secular references from a draft set of curriculum recommendations. The executive director of the Central Kentucky Jewish Federation, Daniel Chejfec, was reportedly greeted with laughs and heckles when he said that stripping the secular abbreviations from the board’s documents would send the message that “anybody who is not a Christian is not welcome in this state.”
“Go home!” one woman shouted, according to Louisville’s Courier-Journal.
Some of the politicians and pundits lining up behind the conservative groups have accused the board of education of attempting to dictate which notations are used. But board officials say the document in question uses both options. Meanwhile, many of the religious activists driving the controversy say that only the Christian terms should be used.
“We need to start speaking up when we see the erosion of the foundation of this nation, which is our family values, our Christian values,” said Finn Laursen, executive director of the Christian Educators Association International, in an interview with the Forward. “This was just one more chip in trying to change the initials of our dating system,” he said.
In an interview with the Forward, Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the board of education, accused Christian conservatives of misrepresenting and sensationalizing the issue. She said the guidelines do not recommend that teachers use either Christian or secular abbreviations; rather, the guidelines themselves make use of both.
The abbreviation issue first gained notoriety earlier this spring when the Family Foundation of Kentucky publicized its ire over the inclusion of the secular terminology in a draft copy of the board’s 700-page Program of Study, a voluntary set of education guidelines for the public schools. In response, Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher, speaking at an April 10 bill-signing ceremony for a measure authorizing the installation of a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds, said he opposed dropping the use of the terms A.D. and B.C. in schools. In April, on the last day of its legislative session and shortly before the board was set to vote on the preliminary Program of Study, the state Senate passed a bill stipulating that the document use the explicitly religious terms. (The measure ran out of steam in the House.)
By late last month national media had seized on the issue, with some conservative pundits, including MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, incorrectly claiming that the board was pressing schools to replace the religious terms.
The Board of Education is slated to vote on the final version of the Program of Study — which is not binding on school districts — during a two-day meeting June 13-14. Since its last meeting in April, the terms of six of the board’s 11 members have expired, and six new appointments were made by the governor. The new appointees are expected to be more conservative than the previous members.
A spokeswoman for the governor said that he has “utmost confidence in the board and the decision they’ll ultimately make on this issue.”