Teaching the Bible in Public Schools?

Perish the thought! What about "Separation of Church and State"? What about pushing off the Christian religion on innocent public-school children? What about offending non-believers who reject God, the Bible, and any form of religious morals? Why should a Christian minority (?) interest be given a preeminent place in a public school? Besides, isn't it against the First Amendment of our Constitution to promote religion in any government entity (a school)? Hasn't the Supreme Court ruled against such a sectarian proposal?

Those are all legitimate questions to ask! They are very serious, concerned, and thoughtful questions that public school curriculum leaders, superintendents, and school board members must know the answers to.

Also, it should be known why such a course is necessary or even helpful. What purpose? What desired outcomes could be realistically expected? Who would object and who would be sued? Can we control the content or the teacher? All good questions! All fair questions that must have honest, fair answers. And they all apply to every other course now being taught.

The very first question a superintendent or a wise board member asks is: "Is it legal? Will it stand up in court? Has the U.S. Supreme Court given us reliable guidelines to go by?" The truth of the matter is, the Supreme Court has given administrators and school boards some very clear guidelines to judge such sticky religious issues.

The proposed mention of religion, along with the use of the Bible, has been strongly misunderstood when applied to public schools. The Supreme Court has ruled that teaching about religion and using the Bible in the classroom may both exist in any curriculum if they are not a part of religious worship, but are integrated as a part of the offerings within a secular program.

The Supreme Court clearly affirmed this position in Stone vs. Graham, when it stated that "the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like."[1]

As one possessing a Masters degree in history, I can tell you that no qualified historian would dispute the simple fact that the Bible is not only a great documented history book of man's beginnings, right up to the modern era, but it is the ONLY documented ancient history account available to mankind on much of that long 4,000 year period B.C. (before Christ). The Bible is not only "appropriate," but necessary for students to have a complete historical picture of mankind.

Through much misinformation given to our schools from sincere but often misguided anti-religious organizations, children have been denied the "right-to-learn," the "right-to-know," and the "right-to-be" all they could become. This unchecked censorship of legitimate knowledge has now become a national issue, being brought out in the open for the first time.

President Clinton has clearly seen the religious freedom issue and its growing importance to his re-election. By particularly addressing religion in our schools, he has touched a nerve in society. Numerous polls over many years have shown the overwhelming public preference in allowing prayer, the teaching of the science of creation, and the Bible as literature in our public schools. The teaching of the Bible, as "history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like," has now been supported by numerous legal foundations and not just the Supreme Court.

Thirty legislators, congressmen, and attorneys have formed the National Council on Bible Curriculum In Public Schools to see that reliable information and legal support of the schools' absolute right to teach the Bible as an elective curriculum in all public schools is available to all schools.

The Supreme Court further stated in Abington vs. Schempp that:

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 (public school) program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.[2]

In the Supreme Court case of Nyquist, the court outlines clearly "that the First Amendment does not forbid all mention of religion in public schools; it is the advancement or inhibition of religion that is prohibited."[3] In its ruling on the McGowan case, the Supreme Court said, "Government involvement in an activity of unquestionable religious origin does not contravene the Establishment Clause if its present purpose and effect is secular."[4]

The Supreme Court ruled also, in Schempp, 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."[5] This is as close to a mandate on religion and Bible teaching in our public schools as a means of a "complete" education, as the court may ever go. When approached from a historical context, the Bible and religion are inseparable from the history of man and government, as the court has clearly stated on several occasions.

The ACLU and others argue that there are those who are hostile to any religion in public schools and therefore the Bible as history and literature should be excluded (censored). But whether the course on Bible Literature is included or not, some will be offended. It is the school's duty to do what is right.

The Florey decision stated that it "would literally be impossible to develop a public-school curriculum that did not in some way affect the religious or non-religious sensibilities of some of the students or their parents."[6]

Since the Bible and religion are extremely valuable components of the study of our history and the development of civilization, they offer much toward attaining a comprehensive, world-class education.

The objectives of a "Bible Literature" class are:

  • To equip students with literary forms and symbols in the Bible that are constantly referred to in art, music, and literature.
  • To give the student understanding of the influence of the Bible on history, law, community, and cultural life.
  • To give insight into the founding fathers' worldviews taken from the Bible promoting human rights, women's rights, social justice, etc.
  • To provide knowledge of Middle-Eastern history (Jewish-Arab), conflicts, geography, and religions.
  • To teach students how to learn, and use, multiple and complex reference skills.

Enforce the importance of religion in world and national history, without teaching or imposing any doctrinal belief.

These objectives will provide constitutional conformity. When the Bible was erroneously removed from our classrooms by school boards or administrators, it was done so with biased information received from many bigoted anti-religious hate groups that have lost almost every case when they reached the Supreme Court. Those misperceptions adopted by otherwise good school people have cost our schools the support and confidence of the public.

Patrick Henry said, "The Bible is a book worth more than all other books that were ever printed." Thomas Jefferson was the first President of the Washington D.C. school board which adopted the Bible as a primary reader.

Students have been denied their constitutional rights long enough. And they have not been given all the facts of history and of the influence of the Bible. Most do not know that the Bible has been the number one best-seller each year since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1456. Last year, the Bible outsold its nearest modern rival by more than five times.

No one could rightly claim to be educated today, or to be a true intellectual, who has never read this powerful and exciting book that has transformed innumerable lives, influenced kings and presidents, and guided entire nations. To what can we compare it?

Such vast amounts of writing and art contain Biblical allusions that ignorance of the Bible cripples any meaningful study of literature or the arts.

Even the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy states that, "The Bible, the holy book of Judaism and Christianity, is the most widely-known book in the English speaking world.... No one in the English speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible" (page 1). Could this censorship of the Bible from our schools be the reason for the growing illiteracy in America, threatening our means of communication?

Our U.S. laws are all based upon our constitution which is a direct pattern of the Old English Law, which unashamedly proclaims its entire jurisprudence system to be based upon the Bible and the Ten Commandments.

Our children are held, by law, to all our U.S. laws, derived from the Bible, yet denied the knowledge of the source of our own constitution and national jurisprudence controlling all of society's laws. Parents, the public, and lawmakers are now demanding a reversal in the five-decade-long slide into crime, disrespect for the law and the resulting moral and spiritual decadence. Exposure to the Bible has an almost magical influence against crime and the moral/ethical slide of our youth and our nation.

Many believe that because of the loss of influence of the Bible, our society and our culture of liberty and freedom is collapsing before our eyes. Yet, our schools continue to side with the very forces that have brought us down. This must change for peace and support for our public schools ever to be regained.

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) outline "Recommendations for Teaching About Religions," fully supports the Supreme Court rulings in their (AASA) seven recommendations.

For support of the idea behind this paper, please obtain a copy of "FINDING COMMON GROUND—A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Education," by Charles C. Haynes, Ph.D., Editor. You can write to The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, 1207 18th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212—or call (600) 321-9588. (Signators: AASA, ASCD, ACLU, NAE, CLS, NSBA, CEE, NEA and others.)

For Bible curriculum meeting all U.S. Supreme Court requirements and a two-semester elective course covering: semester one—Old Testament, history, eastern geography, culture and the influence of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) on world history; semester two—introduction to the New Testament, politics, history, culture of Roman times; Christ, the Christian origins and their impact on all western culture, as it affects today's world. Write to: Elizabeth Ridenour, President; National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, P.O. Box 9743, Greensboro, NC 27429; (336) 272-3799.

End Notes

[1] U.S. Supreme Court: Stone vs. Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 42 (1980).
[2] U.S. Supreme Court: School District of Abington Township vs. Schempp, 374 U.S. 225 (1963).
[3] Committee for Public Education vs. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 788 (1973).
[4] McGowan vs. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 444-446 (1961).
[5] Schempp, op. cit.
[6] Florey vs. Sioux Falls School District, 619 F. 2d 1311, 1314 (8th circuit, 1980). Circuit Court decision and language was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court and allowed to stand as constitutional.

* Dr. Simonds is President of Citizens for Excellence in Education and has been a public school teacher, principal, professor, and administrator for over thirty-five years. His address is CEE, P.O. Box 3200, Costa Mesa, CA 92628; (714) 251-9333.

Cite this article: Robert L. Simonds, Ph.D. 1996. Teaching the Bible in Public Schools?. Acts & Facts. 25 (9).


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