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Teaching The Bible In Public School

November 22, 2020

A coalition of groups led by the First Amendment Center and the National Bible Association has released a joint document, “The Bible & Public Schools.” It outlines what sorts of religious activities are permissible in the public school environment, stressing that students have the right to pray, form Bible clubs or engage in other activities on their time, and as long as others are not compelled to participate.

The Guide also encourages schools to offer courses in the Bible from a literary and historical perspective. It cautions that there are different versions of the Bible, and that any course must be from an academic rather than devotional perspective. It gives the example of where “A study of the Reformation might include a discussion of how Protestants and Catholics differ in their interpretation and use of the Bible.” Other example involve U.S. history, where “there are natural opportunities for students to learn about the role of religion and the Bible in American life and society,” how historical documents “contain biblical references,” and how the Bible has been “invoked on various sides of many public-policy debates and in conjunctions with social movements such as abolition, temperance, and the civil rights movement.” (skip to poll)

“A government or civics course may include some discussion of the biblical sources for parts of our legal system,” adds this document.

The Guide has been endorsed by numerous groups, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Jewish Congress, Baptist Joint Committee, Christian Legal Society, Council on Islamic Education, National Council of Churches, National Education Association and People for the American Way.

It is also being promoted as a “Third model,” and says that it seeks to avoid turning public school into “religion free zones” or fostering “sacred” schools which advance sectarian religion.

You may download a copy of the Guide in pdf form from the Freedom Forum web site. [Here are direct links to the report: PDF File with graphics (586 KB), PDF File without graphics (65 KB). If you need the free PDF Reader, click here.]

Can any of these goals really be achieved though? Is it really possible to “teach the Bible as history” or literature in a public school environment? Would such courses be fair and historically objective?

Some separationists say that the Guide ignores the reality of the culture wars being fought over the role of public schools. Chris Allen of Salt Lake City, Utah charges that attempts to teach the Bible from a literary or historical perspective are often covers to “smuggle religion into the public schools,” and that such courses would simply ignore or minimize the negative impact which religious belief has had over the centuries.

Ellen Johnson of American Atheists says that it is not the role of public schools to “teach religion in any form,” and that such a task -- if it is to be undertaken -- belongs in churches, mosques, temples and in private homes. “This whole problem of religion in the classroom wouldn’t exist in the first place if religious groups were not constantly trying to extend their reach into our secular education system,” says Johnson.

Can the Bible really be taught in an objective and fair fashion?

Check out the background about the First Amendment Center’s Guide, “The Bible & Public Schools.”

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