Public schools can more freely teach the Bible in history and literature courses under new guidelines released yesterday by a coalition of religious and civil liberties groups.
The 10-page study aid, "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide," will be followed next year with teacher training and an Internet course of how school districts may put the Bible into core or elective courses.
"The biggest obstacle in school districts has been fear of controversy, fear of lawsuits," said religion scholar Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, which sponsored the guide with the National Bible Association.
"So we have school districts that totally avoid dealing with the Bible, and others that teach it in the wrong way," he said in a telephone interview from New York, where the guide was released.
The project, which took eight months of deliberation between the 18 groups that endorse it, advises that once students are given an academic introduction to the idea of a sacred text or Scripture, the Bible may be taught in a secular way.
With this approach, "Public schools protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or none," the guide said. "And schools ensure that the curriculum includes study `about religion' as an important part of a complete education."
The document has been endorsed by groups that include People for the American Way (PFAW) - which has filed two major lawsuits against devotional teaching of the Bible in public schools - the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Jewish Congress. …