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1/5/2009 - January 2009 SLI Educational Update - Bible Teaching in Public Schools - Part I



To: SLI Supporters

Date: January 2009

From: A. Eric Johnston

Re: Bible Teaching in Public Schools – Part I

In Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court held Bible reading and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in public schools unconstitutional. As a result, over time, most public schools stopped any type of religious activities and removed any teaching about or from the Bible. However, the court also said in that case:

“It 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 of religion, when presented objectively as a part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

While the Bible has virtually disappeared from public schools, in recent years there has been renewed interest in presenting the Bible in a constitutional manner so that students will understand its importance in history, literature, music and culture. One of the organizations which has been a leader in this is the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS). Its textbook, The Bible in History and Literature, is a significant development in the ability to present the Bible in public schools.

You may recall in 2006 the Alabama Legislature considered whether to require the public schools in Alabama to use a textbook entitled The Bible and Its Influence. We believe this textbook was and is supported by those with a anti-Bible agenda. The legislative bill originated with the liberal Democrat leadership in the Alabama House of Representatives and was supported by the Alabama Education Association. There was much opposition from the religious community. We gave testimony against the bill. The bill did not pass. However, the following year, that textbook was stealthily presented and then approved by the Alabama Textbook Committee as a textbook that might be used in an elective Bible course in public schools.

In order to offer a more suitable option for the public schools, we were contacted by the NCBCPS to have its book The Bible in History and Literature approved as an Alabama textbook. This textbook is to be used by the teacher along with a Teacher’s Companion Guide, which provides tests, lesson plans, activities, and higher order learning skills. It is the goal of this textbook for the students to use the Bible as their textbook. Consequently, not only would local school boards save money on buying textbooks, but students could use their own Bibles from home or from the school library. This approach is important because it avoids the possibility of teaching religion. This is based on several factors:

> Neither the textbook nor the teacher’s guide editorializes, proselytizes or teaches religion.

> The textbook ties directly into history and literature with other books, sources and courses.

> The presentation is factual and objective. It is not opinionated.

> Teachers are instructed not to treat or teach the Bible as religion.

> Plato Learning Inc., a curriculum review specialist, analyzed the textbook and prepared an alignment with the Alabama English Course of Study and found it excellent in meeting Alabama teaching goals.

The textbook states its objectives:

  1. To equip the student with a fundamental understanding of the important literary forms contained in the Bible as well as people and symbols often referred to in literature, art, and music;
  2. To equip the student with a fundamental understanding of important biblical contributions to history, law, American community life, and culture;
  3. To give insight into the worldviews of America’s founding fathers and to understand the biblical influence on their views on human rights;
  4. To provide a greater knowledge of Middle-Eastern history, geography, religion, and politics;
  5. To inform the students of the importance of religion in world and national history, without imposing the doctrine of any particular religious sect.

The Bible in History and Literature has been in use for 14 years, in 37 states, 450 school districts and 1,800 high schools, including 11 Alabama school districts. It is highly acclaimed by teachers. The Bible is the number one selling book of all time. It is indispensible to understanding our culture. The Bible in History and Literature is the best available resource to students and teachers for these purposes.

We provided this information at a hearing before the Alabama Textbook Committee on July 16, 2008. We received a favorable reception, but a vote would not be taken until later. However, the plot was to thicken. Next month we will conclude with details of the approval process.

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