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May 14, 2005
Column #1,237

                         Should Public Schools Teach The Bible?
     Can the ACLU, the National Association of Evangelicals, American Jewish Committee, National Education Association, and the National Council of Churches agree on anything?
     Yes - that the Bible ought to be taught in public school "in courses such as literature and history. Knowledge of biblical stories and concepts contributes to our understanding of literature, history, law, art and contemporary society," according to "The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide" recently published by The Bible Literacy Project.
     Hasn't the Supreme Court outlawed courses about the Bible? No, as long as such teaching is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education," says the Court.
     However, only 8 percent of 1002 teens polled say that their public school offers an elective course on the Bible. Yet half of teens in private schools say they can take such a course.
     The result, according to a recent Gallup Poll is that most teens are "Bible Illiterates," reported George Gallup, Jr. Fewer than half of teens know what happened at the wedding of Cana (water was turned into wine). Ask a teen what's meant by "the road to Damascus," and two-thirds of do not know it refers to Paul's conversion.
     Only 31 percent knew the name of the sacred book of Islam is the Koran. When asked whether David tried to kill King Saul, two-thirds incorrectly said yes.
     Is this illiteracy harmful to students?
     The Bible Literacy Project asked 41 of the "best" English teachers, "Considering the literature you are teaching, how does it advantage or disadvantage students to know about the Bible?" All but one of the teachers said that Bible knowledge gives students a distinct educational advantage.
     "Actually, I think it's very, very important because basically, in my opinion, the Bible is almost embedded in every single one of the works (that I teach)," replied one teacher who is not religious.
     "So when they don't have biblical knowledge, they're really missing part of what the author has to say. And typically, I don't have time to go back and explain all the biblical allusions," said another.
     For example, there are 1,300 Biblical references in Shakespeare. "Hamlet compares himself with Abraham and Isaac," said one teacher.
     A Catholic teacher noted that when Romeo spends 40 pieces of gold to buy the poison, today's students don't understand the reference. But "Shakespeare's audience would have said immediately, "Forty - not 30 - 40! Not silver - gold!" Romeo is committing heresy now. He's out Judas-ing Judas."
     A teacher said only some students understood in "Animal Farm" the allusion to "Moses the raven, who was trying to lead the animals out of their slavery."
     Why did Steinbeck call his great novels, "East of Eden" or "The Grapes of Wrath?"
     In Steinbeck's "The Pearl," a woman is saying the "Hail Mary" over a child to bring it back to health. One kid raised his hand and asked, "Why would they wont to put hail on Mary?  Who's Mary, anyway? Is that her name? I thought her name was Juana. Now she's Mary."
     The teachers developed a list of 75 people or ideas that students need to know to understand literature. Examples: Cain and Abel; Judas Iscariot; Let there be light; Noah's ark; Walking on water; Cast the first stone; Lord's Prayer; Golden rule; Eye for an eye; Solomon; Prodigal son; Apocalypse.    
     Fully 56 percent of the teachers said there was no political or legal obstacles to teaching the Bible as literature, though 20 percent were concerned that they lacked a resource or reference book. Others feared criticism by students of teaching the Bible as truth rather than literature.
     Therefore, the Bible Literacy Project, funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, has developed a new student textbook with Catholic, Protestant and Jewish reviewers, a teacher's edition and teacher training which will be piloted in the fall. For more information, go to

     The public has a great misconception. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that public schools may not require devotional use of the Bible, it added:
     "It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of the ...history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. ...Nothing we have said here indicates that such a study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."
     Parents, here is a cause worthy of your best efforts. Help bring a course in the Bible to your children's school.

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