Understanding the Bible and its influence on Western Society is imperative to the upbringing of our children.
I was born in the late 1980’s, grew up in the 90’s, and went through high school and college in the early to mid-2000’s. Unlike many of my Christian friends that I know and love today, I went through the standard K-12 public education system, first in Florida and then finishing out Middle and High School in Indiana. Unlike the homeschoolers scattered around my community, I knew very little about the Bible, I hated reading and had little to no interest in classical music, art and culture.
In school, there was little mention of God, the Bible or religion in general, and anytime it was brought up by somebody during class (usually in the higher grades), things would get a little tense. It wasn’t so much the students, but the teachers – you could almost feel the temperature change as they hurriedly tried to redirect the conversations.
To be totally honest, I had never really considered why that was. I chalked it up to what I remember being told by my family when I was younger: don’t talk about religion or politics. Well, we see how that worked out for me as I prepare to graduate with a degree focused on political science and religious studies. Having grown and learned more about our nation’s history I now know that the tension was because of a decision that had been passed down nearly 20-years before I was even born.
Faith in the Classroom
In 1962 and 1963, two U.S. Supreme Court decisions changed the way public educators could relate to matters of faith in the classroom. Engel v. Vitale and Abington School District v. Schempp effectively banned school-led Christian prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Since then, the debate on whether the Bible should be taught in publicly-funded schools has been a matter of contention with its opponents claiming it violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and supporters saying the ban violates the Free Exercise Clause; but now, there may be a third way.
In 2005, an organization known as Essentials in Education completed a five-year project to develop a First Amendment compliant textbook that could be used to teach the Bible in both public and private schools. The book is titled The Bible and It’s Influence and takes students on a journey of learning about the biblical characters, narratives, parables, poetry, prophecies, proverbs and more while expressing their influence over Western art, music, literature and culture.
Since the textbook’s release it has been integrated into the elective schedules for over 640 schools in 44 states. The group behind the push to teach the Bible in public schools boasts that an estimated 140,000 students have gone through either the semester, or year-long course, and that 80% of parents in a 2017 survey see learning the Bible as beneficial to their child’s education.
Similarly, according to the group, 38 out of 39 university-level English professors from schools including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and UC Berkley agreed that “an educated person, regardless of his or her faith, needs to know the Bible.”
Nine states have gone so far as to legally endorse the idea of academically and objectively teaching the Bible in their schools, including South Carolina which was one of the first states to do so back in 2007.
Is it Legal?
The idea of teaching the Bible in schools sounds great, but what about the legality of it? The 1962 and 1963 court decisions made it clear that prayer and Bible reading were not allowed, so how many legal challenges has this new movement faced? Surprisingly, the answer is zero because the textbook and materials were developed to fit within the confines of both the First Amendment, as well as the Abington v. Schempp ruling in which Justice Tom Clark wrote:
“[I]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. 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 religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be affected consistently with the First Amendment.”
Understanding the Bible and its influence on Western Society is imperative to the upbringing of our children, and they should be taught the Bible objectively – without skewed opinions of philosophies that look down at religion or religious belief.
For more information on how you can work with your local schools to make sure the Bible is accessible to public school students, visit Teach the Bible in Schools.
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