Studying the Bible in Public Schools Can Help US Students 'Win the Future'

Article excerpt

A critical study of the Bible as literature can prepare students with the thinking skills needed in the 21st century. As an all-time bestseller, the Bible has had a profound impact on history, literature, and culture. It remains a vital part of American life.

The 2011 Miss USA pageant contestants were asked this summer, "Should evolution be taught in schools?" The winner, Alyssa Campanella of California said, "Yes." Perhaps a better question for the young women would be, "Should the Bible be taught in public schools?" And the answer should be "yes" again.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. This all-time bestseller has had a profound impact on the history and development of the United States and remains a vital part of American life and culture. Yet, Americans are less biblically literate now than ever before. In order to increase this vital cultural literacy, public schools should teach courses in biblical literature.

Of course, any mention of both public schools and the Bible in one breath sparks fear of a slippery slope that leads to teaching creationism or mandating compulsory prayer in school. I am not advocating indoctrinating students in a particular faith tradition but rather, teaching literature.

Reading the Bible as literature in public schools does not violate the First Amendment nor our hallowed notions of the separation of church and state.

The Supreme Court has made that clear on multiple occasions.

In the seminal Abington vs. Schempp ruling in 1963, the court ruled against state-sponsored devotional reading of the Bible. Yet, it supported the secular study of the Bible. It stated: "It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as a part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."

In 1973, the court ruled in Committee for Public Education vs. Nyquist that the state could not provide financial support to nonpublic schools. It stated, "The First Amendment does not forbid all mention of religion in public schools; it is the advancement or inhibition of religion that is prohibited."

In Stone vs. Graham in 1980, the Court ruled that the posting of the Ten Commandments was unconstitutional. Yet, it affirmed, "The Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like."

English classes read "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" without parents assuming that teachers are recruiting devotees for Greek polytheism. Biblical literature classes would not teach from a particular religious viewpoint but would teach students how to critically engage great literature.

Record low rate of biblical literacy

The Bible has played an important role in education in our nation. In colonial America, people used the Bible to learn to read, and many desired to learn to read in order to read the Bible. Until recently, well-educated Americans could be expected to be familiar with and even quote biblical texts and to recognize biblical characters, imagery, and allusions such as "forbidden fruit" and "killing the fatted calf." Not to be able to do so would mark you as a Philistine.

While earlier generations would have had little difficulty recognizing Cain and Abel or the Beatitudes, currently, biblical literacy is at a record low. According to a 2004 Gallup Poll of US teens, only 34 percent recognized Cain as saying, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4: 9). Only 37 percent identified "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3) as a segment of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. …