By Warren Richey, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
When is the Bible history and when is it religion? That is the question school officials in Fort Myers, Fla., are struggling to answer after a federal judge said public high school students here could study the Bible as a history textbook.
Some 153 students at seven high schools in Florida's Lee County began attending Old Testament history classes on Wednesday, a day after the judge's ruling. But the same judge blocked a similar course on the New Testament set to begin in March, questioning how the biblical account of Christ Jesus' resurrection and other "miracles" could be taught as secular history.
By one estimate, Bible classes are taught in 21 other states. But Fort Myers has become the site of a major battle over the separation of church and state. "This is certainly the kind of case that could wind up at the Supreme Court. It is an area where we could use some guidance by the high court," says Joseph Conn, a spokesman for the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way filed suit in federal court to block the classes in Lee County. They and other opponents of the Bible history classes say the curriculum is a thinly disguised effort by Christian school board members to indoctrinate teens with Christian theology. Supporters of Bible study say an understanding of the book is essential for all literate, well-educated Americans. They deny any secret agenda to teach religion in public schools. Legal experts say the central issue is not what is taught but how it is taught. If the material were treated objectively in a course that focused on the literary importance of the Bible or through a comparative religion approach, critics of the current curriculum say they would have no problem. But teaching the Bible as history seems to support a particular religious perspective held by some Christians who believe as an article of faith that the Bible is literal history, they say. …