Georgia May OK Bible as Textbook ; If a New Law Passes, It Would Be the First State to Establish the Bible in Its Public School Curriculum in Modern Times

Article excerpt

Decatur High School student Kurt Hughes wouldn't call himself religious. He's never even read the Bible.

But he wouldn't mind taking a class on the holy text if it were offered at his high school in Decatur, Ga. After all, "You look at 'The Old Man and the Sea,' 'King Arthur' and even 'The Matrix,' all have biblical allusions," the junior says. "It'd be useful to know exactly what's in it."

The Georgia legislature seems poised to endorse just such a course. Though students in many states enroll in classes related to the Bible, Georgia would become the first to require its Department of Education to put in place a curriculum to teach the history and literature of the Bible. Schools would use the book itself as the classroom textbook. Specifically the bill would establish electives on both the New and Old Testaments.

It has overwhelmingly passed both chambers, but needs a final vote on a minor House change. The vote is expected as early as Monday. If it passes, the state's Department of Education has a year to establish Bible elective courses in the curriculum.

In the late 1700s, Congress thought enough of the Bible as a textbook that it printed 40,000 copies. But the bold effort here in Georgia to use the Bible in today's secular curricula may be about presenting it as a moral code rather than a foundation to better understand the biblical allusions in literature, critics say.

"Behind this is the tension around the country about how to go about doing a Bible elective, and a lot is at stake," says Charles Haynes, director of the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

The Bible is already being used as a course study in as many as 1,000 American high schools, according to the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools in Greensboro, N.C. The US Supreme Court allows it as long as it's presented objectively, and not taught as fact. But the Georgia legislature's unprecedented decision to wade into what is usually a school district initiative has created concerns.

For example, the bill's use of terms such as Old and New Testament reflect a Protestant bias, some critics say. After all, Catholics and Jews have different interpretations and names for the tome. "To pick one is to suggest that is the right Bible, which is a school district making a faith statement," says Judith Schaeffer, a lawyer for People For the American Way, which works to maintain the separation of church and state. …

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