The Bible and the public school

The rise of public school courses on the Bible raises concern.

Even though at the moment there are not that many public school courses on the Bible, they are steadily rising in popularity. Last year, Georgia became the first state to offer funds for high school electives on the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as the core text. Similar funding is being discussed in several other states across the nation. The rising movement is troubling and threatens essential separations established over the history of America.

Supporters of the rising movement claim that teaching the Bible in schools – solely as an object of study and not as God’s received word – is constitutional. One compelling argument in support of Bible-literacy courses is the importance of having an objective understanding of the Bible because of how greatly it pervades Western culture. Since religion has such a spotlight in the public square, the rising consensus for secular Bible study argues that its knowledge is essential to being an aware, engaged citizen.

But recalling the string of Supreme Court decisions that culminated in 1963’s Abington Township School District v. Schempp – which resulted in the removal of prayer and devotion from the classroom – our society and our courts have consistently stressed the importance of the separation of religion and the public school. To go back and attempt to eliminate this separation is dangerous and should be avoided.

Given our nation’s overwhelmingly Christian makeup, there is substantiated fear that even the attempt at neutral Bible instruction will lead to preferencing. If we teach the Bible outside of close conjunction with other religions, then we are left with a promotion of the majority faith. Furthermore, the line between teaching and preaching would become obscure. It is also important to consider the difficulty of creating a secularly acceptable Bible textbook and finding teachers who are able to give the Bible appropriate secular treatment. The simple solution to this problem is to not teach it at all.