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April 11, 2007
Column #1,337
Advance for April 14, 2007
The Bible Will Be Taught in Public Schools
by Michael J. McManus

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a column stating that "A remarkable textbook, `The Bible and Its Influence,' just published, will re-introduce the teaching of the Bible in public schools in America."

TIME magazine came to the same conclusion in its March 22 issue, the cover of which proclaimed, "The Case for Teaching the Bible."

Wait.  How can the Bible be taught in public schools?  Didn't the Supreme Court outlaw it?  No, it prohibited devotional Bible reading in schools.  I encountered that when my family moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1951. Every morning began with students reading the Bible. As a Catholic 10-year-old, I was utterly confused when it was my turn to read. I knew nothing about it.

However, that Supreme Court decision asserted, "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 study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the First Amendment."

In 1998 Chuck Stetson, a businessman, heard that a Gallup Poll reported only 8% of high school students can take a class on the Bible, yet two-thirds of American adults wanted the Bible offered as a course. "As a venture capitalist, I thought, `Here is an opportunity.'"

Gallup also found that 20% of teens did not know what Easter means, and half did not know what occurred at the wedding of Cana.  Two-thirds could not identify a quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.

With such Biblical illiteracy, how could they understand Shakespeare with 1,300 Biblical allusions or what Martin Luther King was talking about in his last sermon, the night before he was assassinated, when he preached, "I've been to the mountaintop...And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land."

Stetson called Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center to discuss how a course might be constructed that could gain the support of Protestants, Catholics and Jews. They decided to publish a paper, "The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide." 

It stated public schools could "neither inculcate nor inhibit religion, but become places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect." And
"The school's approach to religion is academic, not devotional."

The Guide was endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Council on Islamic Education and the National Education Association, National School Board Association.

With that broad support Stetson and Cullen Schippe, began writing, drafting a textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence."  They made some early decisions. For example, they referred to the Old Testament as the "Hebrew Scriptures," which is what Jews call it. The text is designed to be taught with whatever Bible a student chooses. It incorporates lavish artwork. For example, a box near the Song of Songs has a picture of wedding rings exchanged by Jewish couples, with its words, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."

The Letters of Paul are introduced by noting his books  to churches are arranged from the longest to the shortest.  First is Romans which "had the greatest impact on Christianity and Western civilization."  Interestingly, it is analyzed as "Paul's most highly developed letter in terms of form and argument."   The text examines Paul's thesis, his proof and  refutation of opposing views as effective rhetoric.

The text was reviewed by 40 Biblical scholars. Every one endorsed it including Catholic bishops who lead the Catholic Biblical Association, Orthodox leaders, the groups noted above.

Thus far, 85 school districts in 30 states have begun to use the textbook. Another 1,000 are considering doing so. One teacher, Tom Wiegman in Fullerton, Cal. using it to teach three classes to 100 kids, says he loves the text's artwork, its "interesting historical elements," and its many references to literature.

The Georgia Legislature voted to fund curricula to teach the Bible next fall.  Texas Rep. Warren Chisum has introduced a bill mandating the teaching of the Bible if it is requested by 15 students, which passed one committee last week. "We're not going to preach the Bible, we're going to teach the Bible and how it affects all of our writings, documents and the formation of our government," he said.

And since TIME's cover story, 200 people have logged on to to become volunteers who will introduce the text to their school board.

Why not join them?

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