Bible History Course Draws Fire

Article excerpt

CHILHOWIE, Va. -- Derrek Martin's worn black Bible is a source of inspiration to him, God's own word revealed and true. And for a few months at the public high school in this Southwest Virginia town, it was also his textbook.

Martin, 18, and the 41 other students who have completed Bible history courses at Chilhowie High School are part of a national experiment aimed at returning the Bible to public schools.

A growing number of educators and interest groups agree that teaching about the Bible and other religious texts is vital to a well-rounded education. But watchdog groups argue that such courses can tread perilously close to government-sponsored religious indoctrination, which the U.S. Constitution forbids.

The controversy is a bit of a mystery to Martin and his classmates. This town of 2,000 is in the Bible Belt. The principal of Chilhowie High says not only are there no Muslims, Hindus or Jews to offend; among 440 students, there is not a single Catholic.

The class memorized the names and order of the Bible's books and completed a chart detailing the 36 miracles attributed to Jesus. Students wrote in a journal for 10 minutes a day about the meaning of Bible passages and took exams with such problems as, "List the six proofs that the Bible is God's word."

As for the Bible's literal truth -- Jesus walking on water, Moses parting the Red Sea -- there was no disclaimer, no debate. …