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2/2/2009 - February 2009 SLI Educational Update - Bible Teaching in Public Schools - Part II

AN EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM

THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTE™, INC.

To: SLI Supporters

Date: February 2009

From: A. Eric Johnston

Re: Bible Teaching in Public Schools - Part II

Last month we explained that the U.S. Supreme Court removed Bible reading and devotions from public schools, but acknowledged that the Bible may be properly taught in public schools saying, “Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, which presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.” Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).

Two textbooks have been prepared that would teach the Bible in public schools in this manner. One of those textbooks is published by the Bible Literacy Project, entitled The Bible and Its Influence. The other is published by ABLU, Inc. and distributed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), entitled The Bible in History and Literature.

States have various methods of permitting or using textbooks. Alabama has a textbook committee selection process. SLI recently provided legal representation for the approval of The Bible in History and Literature as a textbook to be used in Alabama public schools. This is for an elective one hour course teaching the Bible, not as a devotional text, but as an important historical document that has effected history, art, literature and other areas of life.

The story begins in 2006. The Bible Literacy Project attempted to pass a legislative bill that would have permitted only The Bible and Its Influence to be a textbook of this nature in Alabama. It was supported by liberal Democrats and the Alabama Education Association. At the time, SLI provided testimony and information on the questionable nature of the book. For example, at page 50 the book says, “It is always good to remember not to try to apply current standards to the biblical accounts.” At page 81 it said, “Gideon won the battle by a bit of trickery.” Taken as a whole, such subtle statements are misleading and would diminish the students’ appreciation for the Bible. We believe this violates the establishment clause. The bill did not pass.

The following year, The Bible and Its Influence was presented as a textbook to be approved by the Textbook Committee. Opponents of the textbook were unaware and even though the State Superintendent of Education asked knowledgeable Textbook Committee department persons whether there was any opposition to the textbook, he was told no. Unfortunately, the textbook was approved for use in Alabama public schools.

This year, we represented NCBCPS in seeking approval of The Bible in History and Literature as an approved textbook. We appeared before the Alabama Textbook Committee on June 16, 2008. There, we demonstrated to the committee the scholarly and academic nature of the textbook, as we explained in last month’s Educational Update.

The ACLU called for a public hearing on The Bible in History and Literature, which was held on September 9, 2008 before the Alabama Textbook Committee. An ACLU lawyer from Washington, D.C. and a PhD candidate attacked the textbook without basis. They said the textbook was of a devotional nature, promoted Protestant religion, was not scholarly, and had been held unconstitutional in two court cases. We responded with the testimony of Roy Blizzard, PhD and Ron Moseley, PhD, both professors of religion with many years of experience. They demonstrated, without question, the nonjudgmental academic superiority of the textbook. Calhoun County school representative Phil Murphy said their schools had successfully been using this textbook and had the highest praise for it. I responded in the strongest possible terms that the information provided by the ACLU lawyer completely misrepresented the legal status of the textbook. He relied on two cases, one in Odessa, Texas and one in Lee County, Florida, for the proposition that our textbook was unconstitutional. Neither of those cases involved our textbook. We came away from the hearing comfortable that our textbook was the best possible choice.

On October 9, 2008, the Alabama Textbook Committee approved The Bible in History and Literature as a textbook to be used in Alabama public schools. On November 13, 2008 it was to be presented to the Alabama State Board of Education for consideration. The ACLU again issued press releases and letters to the Board saying the same things they had said at the September 9 hearing. We responded with letters to the Board and were present before the Board, but the ACLU did not appear. The Board approved our textbook.

Issues with Bible textbooks to be used in public schools are taking place in a number of states, including Texas and Virginia at the present time. We believe there is a significant battle between The Bible and Its Influence and The Bible in History and Literature for trying to take advantage of the opportunity to present the Bible in public schools. It is our opinion the former is being presented to mislead and denegate Jewish and Christian religion, while the latter meets U.S. Supreme Court requirements by providing objective valid academic information to students.

We encourage our Alabama readers with public school children to investigate and have their school provide the elective course and use the textbook, The Bible in History and Literature. On the other hand, the textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, should not be used. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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