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Should Bible Classes Be Taught in Public Schools?

By March 24, 2006

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Category: Religious Liberty

Amy Hess makes a good argument this week in favor of teaching more Bible-as-literature classes, arguing that:

Public schools offer classes on Greek and Roman mythology. Why? Because those myths permeate our culture. Students should understand the many allusions to ancient myths in everyday American life, from the planet Jupiter to Midas mechanics. Why should we "Trust the Midas Touch"? Because everything King Midas touched turned to gold. "Oh yeah. Yeah, I get it."

Yet, kids don't understand why Faulkner would name his book Absalom, Absalom. Who in the world was Absalom? They don't have a clue. And maybe... neither do you. Too many young people are just not being taught about the greatest book in literature - a book that has influenced several religions and countless generations. America is so skittish about maintaining a separation between Church and State, [it has] neglected its children's education ...

This chasm of biblical ignorance has grown mighty obvious, and many public schools are now working to offer Biblical literacy classes as electives. They are permitted to do so constitutionally as long as they neither promote nor attack the religious elements of the Bible.


Here in Jackson, Mississippi, one local state-funded community college offers an A.A. in Philosophy and Bible instead of Philosophy and Religion. Why? Because, well, there are only three religion classes--World Religions, Old Testament, and New Testament--and one 3-hour course does not a concentration make. So it makes more sense to call it a Bible degree than a religion degree.

The kicker is how to cover the Bible. As someone who has written both a guide to the Bible and several books dealing with church-state issues (including one that focuses exclusively on religion in schools), I've seen both sides of this debate up close. Do you say God wrote the Pentateuch, or do you say that it came from four traditions that we can call Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomistic, and Priestly? Do you use the Protestant version, or the slightly longer Roman Catholic version, or the truly massive Ethiopian Orthodox version? And which translation?

Back in the 19th century, when nobody much cared about church-state separation because the idea had not yet been applied to state law, both the Bible and the Lord's Prayer were taught in public schools. But the Bible was taught using the Protestant King James Version translation, the Lord's Prayer was not spoken in Latin, and the little devotional lessons that came with the Bible study were generally pro-Protestant at best and anti-Catholic at worst. This was a serious problem for new immigrants, who tended to be Catholic, so they responded to this by creating a parochial school system that still thrives to this day--a system where, at the time, the Douay-Rheims translation could be used instead of the King James, the Lord's Prayer became the Pater Noster, and the theology lessons reinforced the teachings of the church rather than condemning them.

There is no sensible reason why the Bible can't be taught at all in public schools, and there are many sensible reasons why it should be, but determining how to teach it is a tricky proposition. In the Alabama case Amy refers to, for example, some evangelicals object to the idea of using a non-sectarian Bible textbook because that would be seen as a way of further pushing a secular agenda. But if you use a sectarian Bible textbook, then you are by definition promoting religion. Facing this dilemma, folks responsible for designing curricula tend to throw their hands in the air and leave the issue of Bible classes to churches, religious schools, and to colleges and universities. That unfortunate compromise may well be the one that school administrators are stuck with until the culture war becomes less heated.

Comments

March 29, 2007 at 11:03 am
(1) sally says:

If the bible is to be taught in public shcools it should be taught by christian teachers to prevent the pushing of the secular agenda. Bible study should be a matter of choice to avoid forced conversion.

April 3, 2007 at 9:03 am
(2) ms.moss says:

i dont think so

April 6, 2007 at 7:17 pm
(3) Whatev says:

Sure… and you put a ‘Christian’ in charge of teaching, and you’ll get someone who’ll push an anti-secular agenda. I mean, really, look at the tactics used by the ‘Intelligent Design’ folks to try to push their way into the educational system.

Try to teach the Bible in public school, and nobody wins. Education should be left up to parents, churches, and curious individuals.

May 7, 2007 at 10:33 pm
(4) Doug says:

The Bible should not be taught the same way in a school as it is in a Church. It should be taught strictly as a peace of literature and for no other reason than it is culturally relevant. Students would not analyze how it affects individuals personally, but rather how it has shaped our society. This would appease Christians; on the grounds that students would have Bibles in their hands and would make Non-Christians happy that it teachers are teaching the Bible not preaching it.

October 6, 2008 at 10:37 am
(5) Ally says:

I am a student in high school and I believe that the Bible should be taught in schools. If the Bible was taught in schools (from kindergarden)I think that there would be less violence and more peace. If you have Jesus Christ the you have weverthing that you will ever need. God bless you! Jesus loves you

October 18, 2008 at 12:07 am
(6) Mark says:

Ally:

That is exactly why people don’t want the Bible taught in schools. People like you who think that there religion or belief is so much better is the reason that this topic is being debated. Some people do not believe in Jesus, can you understand that?

October 19, 2008 at 5:16 pm
(7) Jason says:

The Constitution strictly prohibits the teaching of any religion…and Ally, many rapists, serial killers and domestic killers are christian…

October 22, 2008 at 11:05 pm
(8) Jesus Freak says:

goodness… you guys are rude. Jesus loves you whether you like it or not. Deal with it.

October 31, 2008 at 4:42 am
(9) Jess says:

I’m a high school student and I beleive that the characters of the bible set a positive example, so it should be taught in school. The bible is also a great source of culture and history. Mark, I am not christian and when I read the bible, I didn’t find it offensive because I think teaching a religious text of any kind that promotes good should not be banned because in the end all the bible, the quran, the bhagvadgita and etc all promte good. Also Jason, yes there are christians in this world who are rapists, serial and domestic killers, but the bible did not support any such behaviors and there are christians who are charitable and kind and generous as well in this world!

November 5, 2008 at 3:40 pm
(10) Karen says:

I’m a Christian and I’m from China. Now I’m studying in America. One of my Courses is American Public School Law and I’m reading the chapter of how the wall between states and churches is being built and how the wall is extended into education.

I have to say I feel pity for the wall, because it’s not a wall that protect the freedom and liberty as most American think, but rather a wall that separate God and His people, cut the blessings upon us form the Almighty but incur curses in a long run.

I think the founders of American Constitution would regret what they wrote into COnstitution to protect religion freedom to avoid strife among different domination, to prohibit any one domination to be supreious than others

November 5, 2008 at 4:07 pm
(11) Karen says:

(continued and corrected)
I think the founders of American Constitution would regret what they wrote into Constitution that originally aimed to protect religion freedom to avoid strife among different dominations and to prohibit any one domination to be supreious than others within Christianity, but lately, step by step, was twisted and distorted into a weapon to kick God out of all Public fields, restraining Christian faith as only personal and individual matter.

But the God we believe is an Almighty God who won’t be destroyed by the hands of man-kind. He’s coming to China where thousands and thousands people become Christians each year, for we recognize how precious the salvation He has gave us as well as the universal truth based on the words of the Holy Bible after we as a nation, have suffered and been tortured for thousands of years, not knowing God.

Dear American people, be sensitive and thankful to the One who loves you and blesses you so much. Don’t go too far way where you can not reach His Provision anymore and if that time comes, it will be the darkest time in American history.

November 9, 2008 at 5:09 pm
(12) Jepa says:

Very well said Karen! Teaching the Bible but not preaching it in schools would be good. If they’re going to teach evolution, why not keep an open mind and teach some religion too! And since 95% of the USA are Christians (supposedly) it seems only right that they’d teach The Bible other than Islam or some other religion. Of course you couldn’t ban those religions from being taught, but it’d be better to have more emphasize on the Bible. The Koran talks of murdering people to spread its religion..teaching that to our kids would not be good for anyone.

January 12, 2009 at 8:10 pm
(13) millerface says:

wow, i love the comments, and i support the teaching of the bible in schools, good job though, guys

January 14, 2009 at 7:59 pm
(14) JesusGrl says:

I’m sorry, but I don’t think that it’s right that Greek Gods and other religions can be taught in school, and yet Christianity cannot. Also considering how many Christians there are! I completely believe in Jesus and am offended when other religions are taught.

January 19, 2009 at 7:06 pm
(15) WakeUpAmerica says:

I do not know where you get your resources from.
The Quran is strickly against violence.
The Quran is about peace.
There is only one Quran. Read it. Interpret it. It is a beautiful religion.

January 19, 2009 at 7:07 pm
(16) Wake Up America says:

The Quran just like the Original Bible promotes goodness.
The Quran is against violence.
The Quran is about peace.

March 19, 2009 at 4:57 pm
(17) yo momma says:

the bible should be taught at schools. whether you know it or not, the BiBLE is the most read and most sold book in the world. you dont have to be a Christian to read the Bible, educate yourself, and learn more about God. you should NOT ever talk about God that way hommies

May 15, 2009 at 5:37 pm
(18) John K says:

I have seen that this has been talked around. How ever to teach the Bible in school with out teaching a doctrine or theology can be done. As a long time student of the Bible, and teacher of, I can show you how to teach the Bible with out religion, doctrine, or theology becoming an issue. World history is the study of man kind from start to today. In this class one looks at others lived, and interacted with the nations around them. True the “church” would never be happy with leaving out doctrine. The secular, would be mad about teaching the Bible in any manner, yet with one was to leave out Theology, Doctrine, and religion. There would be an introduction to all 3.
As we know, should one truly place faith first, and believe the words of the Bible, it is clear that by leaving out the teachings of all churches, God’s Word will get done what He has for it to do.

May 28, 2009 at 1:41 pm
(19) Niklas says:

I’m sitting here in Sweden wondering why the ones of you who are Christian is so keen on teaching the Bible? I don’t know how education about religion works in the U.S, however in Sweden be get to learn about all the major world religions and faiths including the ancient ones like Greek and even Swedish mythology.

With that said I have never read the Bible but through school I still know what Christianity is about and also how the Bible is structured and some of its most well know stories.

What I’m trying to say is that Christianity can be taught along with every other religions without the actual Bible.

September 7, 2009 at 10:16 pm
(20) Sarah says:

When there’s peace in this world, the Christian’s will be in heaven. What is the point of living if you’re one day closer to death? Heaven and Hell are REAL places that you go to after you die – believe it or not; I’d rather be sure then not sure.

September 7, 2009 at 10:21 pm
(21) Sarah says:

WE are the church. It’s not a building or the music or the pastor or the communion that makes the church. CHRISTIANS as ONE body are the church.

Sin was brought into this world by HUMANS therefore it is in our nature to sin (make wrong decisions). It is up to us to make those decisions and will FALL on us in the end whether it be good or bad.

January 31, 2010 at 5:47 pm
(22) Jerry says:

Of course it should,by Christian teachers

May 3, 2010 at 9:46 am
(23) Texas_angel says:

I am 16 years old. I started at the top of this page and worked my way down. i see alot of anger, hostility, love and compassion. To think that people react in some ways is beyond me, the Bible promotes good, and it obviously cant make you a BAD person. So im not sure what people are running from. Maybe they dont like being told what to do. Or maybe they just dont want God ‘running their life’. Or theyre just too proud to admit sometimes, that they might be wrong. I dont know, but when i started reading this, i got to about number 9 and i found myself in tears. In my highschool library surrounded by my first period classmates. I think the Bible should be taught in school, theres really nothing that wrong with it. Yall angry people should just let go of your security blankets, God is not out to get you. And for all you know he might be the best thing that ever happened to you. Thats why its called ‘ Faith’.

June 22, 2010 at 11:26 pm
(24) Adam says:

You know, if they teach the bible. They should teach the Koran too. And the book for the FSM. You know what, let’s teach about every god in the Hindu religion. I mean it’s only fair.

Ouch that hurt my brain contemplating that in my head.

July 9, 2010 at 7:13 am
(25) seth christopher says:

am from ghana,and much sad to hear tha someone has not read the BIBLE before.am optimistic the bible has to be taught in schools,with doctrine ,theology and faith well elaborated.this must be done by christians teachers.why do we study greek mythology even at my unioversity level here in ghana and think of ignoring teaching the bible in schools.

November 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm
(26) Scott says:

Most of us believe that people should be allowed to make up their own mind about most things. Many people who oppose the Bible believe that children should be taught evolution, moral relativism, and secular humanism to counter their biblical upbringing, then be left to “decide for themselves,” sort of like worldview capitalism. Yet these same people will do everything they can to keep the Bible, or even something as vague and generic as “intelligent design” from being taught along with evolution and humanism. If you truly want people to make up their own minds, instead of just being brainwashed, you will teach both the Bible and secularism in public schools.

March 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm
(27) Iain says:

Religion is the antithesis of science and reason. ID (creationism in disguise) is NOT simply an alternative to evolution.

You cannot give equal weight to bronze-age superstition and myth, as scientific theory (remember, gravity is a theory) backed by insurmountable scientific evidence.

Where is a single shred of evidence for a god/creator? “All around us!! Hallelujah!!” is not a valid answer. Should we also teach the Loch Ness monster? Bigfoot? Vampires?

How do you teach secularism? It’s the separation of church and state, nothing more, nothing less. I suppose you could explain why it’s far, far, more desirable as it promotes equality, and freedom of religion/from religion. But to then plow on with the teaching of a single faith? Mixed-messages/irony much? Absolute madness.

I’m all for the teaching of the Bible by the way, as it’s a fast track to atheism. As long as it is approached as myth, and open, critical appraisal is welcomed from students.

These comments make me weep too ‘Texas_angel’…

Yours sincerely, horrified Brit

April 12, 2011 at 9:30 am
(28) gary kukis says:

The founders of our country did not mean the separation of church and state as we mean it today. They attended religious services in the various buildings in which they wrote the constitution and made laws once we became a country. There is a chaplain for Congress, which office still exists today.

What the Warren court did was, dig up the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” from an old Jefferson letter, and then they reinterpreted the word “church.” Our founding fathers expressed their feelings about God and Jesus Christ on numerous occasions, both publicly and privately, in letters and in official documents.

What the Warren Court did was redefine “church” as “religious expression of any sort.” So, whereas the Bible was commonly found in our schools for hundreds of years and whereas many presidents and others made many proclamations referring to Jesus Christ and to God, the Warren Court sought to limit religious expression by public officials and where such expressions had existed for years.

The actual concept is, Congress is not to limit religious expression and the church is not to seize power (as in the Church of England or the Church of Rome).

But the idea that we should not have the Bible in the schools is a misinterpretation of the first amendment and relatively recent to our history as a nation.

April 22, 2011 at 12:49 am
(29) John says:

When the constitution says separation of church and state, it is not saying it should be the separation of church and school. What this means is that the state should not control how a person is to worship Christ, not that the state should prohibit schools from teaching Christ. I am a high school student at a Christian school, and we have a daily Bible class. Our school is far from perfect, but it is a lot more moral than your average California public school. If there was to be a Bible class in public schools, it would not force kids to be Christians, but it would be a great way to teach morals like our constitution is actually structured.

May 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm
(30) luke says:

to: Iain

Regarding your question, “Where is a single shred of evidence for a God/Creator?”

Romans 1:20- “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead: so that they are without excuse.”

Now, what separates Christianity from every other religion? Christianity has a risen savior, not a dead founder. Until you can disprove the Bible you should not outright reject it, but rather study it. A person should not just reject something unless he knows what it is he is rejecting.

May 31, 2011 at 10:49 am
(31) Freeforall says:

Greek and Latin religions are taught in school because they are old religions, which no-one believes in anymore. Modern religions like Christianity have billions of followers and should probably be left in church, not introduced into schools. I’m from Britain, and Christianity is taught to us in religious studies. What more do you want?

August 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm
(32) Bradford says:

You people say, “where’s your evidence”, well, where’s your proof against god? This is stupid that people come on here and argue, making points against something without backing up there own points.

And to whoever said the Quaran is about murder and stuff, it’s not, and you know what, I believe in freedom of religion, but I also believe in bible study being taught in school, but only if you choose to take it, and it shouldn’t be presented as a myth, but as fact, because there are many people, including me, who do accept it as fact.

November 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm
(33) Fallen Angel says:

Ok first of religion of any kind should not be taught in schools . Second if christanity was taught all religions would be taught so suck it!!!!

December 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm
(34) Andrew Twedt says:

Yes, Christianity should be taught in schools because if evoulution is taught instead, then it would be a lie because everything in the evolution theory is false. Christianity is what really happened so that’s why it should be taught in schools. If you want kids to know the truth about us humans then have Christianity put in public schools.

If you dissagree with me, than go to youtube and watch, “Lies in the Textbooks” by Kent Hovind for a better understanding

January 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm
(35) Josh says:

The Constitution strictly says, and I quote: “…shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”

If Christian History/Literature were to be taught in school, I should be taught and NOT preached. Which, from personal experience of growing up in the Bible Belt, I believe will be incredibly hard for Christians to actually do.

Public schools should also have classes devoted to teaching Islamic Literature, Jewish Literature, Hindu Literature, Buddhist Literature and more ancient literatures and mythologies, such as Greek and Roman.

Afterall, we’re not pushing for an establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion, right?

And before you even start with the “Oh, Islamic, Hindu,etc,etc. literature has had no impact on our culture and will have no impact on our students”: You should realize that right there, you are going down the slippery slope of pushing YOUR Religion and views. Keep in mind, not every American is a Christian. Meaning, our culture has been formed by MORE than just 1 religious view.

January 18, 2012 at 12:55 am
(36) Zach says:

Hey guess what there are athesists like me in public schools and muslims and jew and confused people

January 18, 2012 at 1:00 am
(37) Zach says:

Oh and my proof is how do we know for sure if something exist without contact so suck that and this if you want bible study theres a place called private schools and home school and this too i hate most christians because they are stubbon jackasses that belive they are right and everyone else is wrong and maybe jesus or muahmmad or whatever were all POTHEADS THAT IMAGGINED EVERYTHING!!

March 23, 2012 at 11:38 am
(38) David to Zach says:

God is real! Potheads IMAGINE dumb things and us Christian BELIEVE we will be saved by Jesus our Savior! So go to church sometime and maybe you’ll believe:) Have a God Filled day everybody!!!!

April 16, 2012 at 10:39 pm
(39) Chad says:

Whatever we do let us love one another with a true heart, fervently. But Yes…

Jesus is the Way, Whooooo!!!!!

It’s True!

He is the only way to be saved. Jesus came to love, heal, and forgive. Why not reach out and call his name with a true heart and ask him to save you. He can save you’re soul from the lake of fire, which is Real by the way, which is where non-believers will go, and give you peace with God and yourself.

Just pray this prayer and mean it with your whole heart, “Lord Jesus, I confess you with my mouth and I believe in my heart that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross for my sins, and that God raised you from the dead. I confess to you Father that I am a sinner and I confess all my sins to you now, please forgive me of my sins Lord Father, and give me everlasting life. Come into my heart, live in me, and use me for your glory Jesus, I now receive you Jesus as Lord and Savior and your Holy Spirit, and Now know that I am saved from hell, and am born again right now, I ask this of you Father in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen. Thank you Lord for saving me, forgiving me of all my sins, giving me everlasting life and your Holy Spirit.”

Feel the change! What saves you is faith (believing) that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died on the cross for your sins, and that God the Father raised him from the dead. So keep that faith in him no matter what. Find a good Bible believing church, put God first place, he’s going to bless you and help you all you life. Remember Jesus’ promise ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” and this great passage from John “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

May 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm
(40) Glorifying him says:

1 Timothy 4:12 says that don’t let anyone despise of your youth I think anyone who believes in god should be able to teach all the want! By the way Jesus loves you

May 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm
(41) Glorifying him says:

1 Timothy 4:12 says that don’t let anyone despise of your youth I think anyone who believes in god should be able to teach all the want! By the way Jesus loves you

July 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm
(42) Confused? says:

Ok , let’s try to keep this short and simple. I’m a Christian, let’s start with that . Someone who commented above me stated to a sort that they wanted the bible to be taught , but yet they would be offended if they taught a different religion … Really people ? What about the Hindus , Jews , Muslims , atheists , etc. that feel the same way ? Wouldn’t just be easier to only use the bible as a work of literature , if it was used at all ? Mythology is taught because most people are smart enough to figure out it’s a MYTH . Just one last point , WHO really believes that an elderly man was told by god to build an ark and capture two of every animal because a giant flood was going to kill everyone.

August 3, 2012 at 8:47 pm
(43) Moloch says:

Which version of the Bible would be taught? New standard? King James? Do you teach the older versions like the Torah and Quran? Should all the other texts be included? The gospel of Judas and Mary Magdeliene? The writings of King Solomon? Do you include Lilith with Adam and Eve?

If you are going to teach the Bible as a historic text you should teach the entire history of the text and explore all other aspects.

If you can’t agree with teaching as a whole and want onlyyour personal beliefs taught then you do not understand what this country was founded on. Religious freedom and freedom from persecution.

October 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm
(44) Emerald says:

I think that if they are going to teach the bible in pubilc school they should teach other religons alongside id, like jewish ways or muslum or pagan ideas. seeing as they don’t I don’t think it should be taught in public scool.

October 25, 2012 at 11:52 pm
(45) Jon says:

I cannot believe some of the comments here. The government is allowed to force all students to learn and take evolution as fact. And they are required to teach about Greek and Roman Gods, and history of Islam, but they never ever ever mention a word about Christianity. Why? I truly wonder about this sometimes.

November 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm
(46) LezboCynthia101 says:

Yes They should have them! (:

March 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm
(47) stock market results today says:

It’s enormous that you are getting thoughts from this article as well as from our argument made here.

June 2, 2013 at 11:10 pm
(48) Joejoejoe says:

I am a 15 year old High School student and I have been taught about other religions in my public school except Christianity witch me and basiclly everyone inthe school is. How does this make since. I think that starting in middle school it should be required to take a religion taught by someone who is educated in that faith. And they only have to then teach the religions that kids ask for as long as they don’t deny and. And for the atheists, then have them take another social studies class, or something like that.

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