Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Hammurabi Says About Texas Open Meetings

What do you know of the Code of Hammurabi? You know, the set of ancient Babylonian laws dating to the second millennium B.C.? How many can you recite from memory? I'll spot you a few. Here, from Wikipedia, are some examples of the 281 laws that make up the famous code.

  • If a man puts out the eye of an equal, his eye shall be put out.
  • If a man knocks the teeth out of another man, his own teeth will be knocked out.
  • If anyone strikes the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.
  • If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
  • If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.
  • If anyone commits a robbery and is caught, he shall be put to death.
  • If during an unsuccessful operation a patient dies, the arm of the surgeon must be cut off.
  • If a government official actually answers a constituent's question, he shall be smitten.

OK, I made up that last one, but you get the point. Not only does Hammurabi tell us what's forbidden, he gives us a kind of ancient equivalent to the US government's federal sentencing guidelines.

Quiz: Does Hammurabi's Code remind you of any other ancient set of laws? After the jump, the answer.

According to a woman who spoke before the Richardson ISD (RISD) school board Monday evening, Hammurabi's Code should make you think of the 10 Commandments brought down from the mount by Moses. Fair enough, I suppose. This woman is upset that in a class she taught at some point in the past, her students weren't able to come up with that answer. When she told the class the answer she was looking for, she was met with blank stares.

Her proposed solution to this educational failing? Teach an elective course in the Bible in public schools. What was the school board's reaction to this suggestion? The same dumbfounded silence the woman received from the students in that class on Hammurabi.

Why the dumb looks? Not because the school board isn't interested in biblical studies. Although maybe they aren't. Who knows? There's really no way to tell because of their silence. The reason the school board didn't say anything to this woman is because Texas state law forbids them from doing so. The Texas Open Meetings Act forbids government bodies from discussing matters that aren't on the posted meeting agenda. And Hammurabi certainly wasn't on Monday night's agenda. Instead, the president of the school board asked for the woman's name and contact information, promising that someone from the school district would later contact her privately to further discuss the matter. Later. Privately. Out of reach of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Instead of ensuring open and public discussion of the public's business, the Texas Open Meetings Act drives such discussion underground. What's the RISD school board's thinking about bible studies? Does the district have a reason why no such class is offered? Is the board considering a bible studies class? Do members of the school board favor or oppose such a class? We'll never know, because the Texas Open Meetings Act prevented anyone on the school board from discussing the subject in public, at least in that forum. Instead, one woman, the one who raised her issue in public, may or may not learn something in private later on.

So, tell me again how the Texas Open Meetings Act serves the public's interest.

By the way, not that it matters to this story, but I think every American ought to be informed about the Bible, but I don't trust that such classes would be taught in a secular manner. Besides the Bible, Americans also ought to know something about the Quran and ancient texts from Egypt, India and China. I say, teach them all in a secular class. Maybe I'll tell the school board this, so I can be met with dumbfounded silence, too.

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