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
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
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. …