Bibles in the Classroom

The Bible is “not just ‘The Good Book.’ It’s a good book.” So says Tommie Williams, Majority Leader of the Georgia State Senate. As reported by AP, Williams sponsored a bill that will make Georgia the first state to fund Bible classes in public schools. According to the article, “The Bible already is incorporated into some classes in Georgia and other states, but some critics say the board’s move, which makes the Bible the classes’ main text, treads into dangerous turf. The U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion is often interpreted as implying a separation of church and state.”

Although I consider myself something of a skeptic, I feel compelled to respond: on the face of it, I have no major problem with this. During my senior year of high school, my English teacher had us read selections from the Bible, as well as from Greek and Roman mythology, in order to identify the allusions frequent in other literary works. I didn’t feel that my rights were infringed upon. Honestly, it was an informative and generally enjoyable set of lessons. These days, I don’t read my Bible very often, but I think Williams is right: it is a good book.

As a graduate of Thomas Jefferson’s University, I don’t see that this violates the separation of church and state, provided that it is taught in an “objective and non-devotional manner.” To be honest, I would like to see classes on the Koran and the Torah as well. (I’d like to think that Mr. Jefferson—we refer to him as though he were still alive—would agree with me on this.) Whether or not a bill that offered such classes would pass might say something about the state of politics today, but I’ll leave that for another place and time.

I will grant that the “temptation” for proselytism by teachers exists, but religious supporters of the bill might argue that it is no different for biology teachers who teach the “theory” of evolution. Let’s remember that the evolution v. creationism debate is very much alive, particularly in the public school systems of the South. Nevertheless, these are courses that should be taught very carefully.

One final disclaimer: the article does not make clear whether or not these courses would be electives, but I will assume that they are. If my assumption is wrong, this entire post can be disregarded.


4 Responses to “Bibles in the Classroom”

  1. March 9, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with offering such classes as long as they are not required. Of course, Biblical literacy is a necessary part of cultural literacy, in my opinion. When I teach about slavery I have my students listen to slave spirituals, and I am always surprised by the number of them that do not catch the Biblical allusions, especially since these allusions are so illustrative of the slaves’ desire for freedom.
    And, I think people tend to take this separation of church and state issue to the nth degree. When I was in high school, the Christian club at the largest city public school was not allowed to meet on school property, but the Wiccan club and other religious groups were. That is discrimination in my opinion…for pete’s sake, they’re just student extracurricular activities, not required courses.

  2. March 10, 2007 at 7:41 am

    I largely agree with both the posting and Kristen’s comment on biblical/cultural literacy. (And the courses ARE electives, by the way.)

    I live in Georgia and watched this happen last year, however, and I don’t feel so good about these particular courses. The bill that passed in the Georgia General Assembly was not the original bill offered, and the changes (and the apparent reasons for the changes) are what trouble me. A good and brief discussion of the history of the bill is here: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/commentary.aspx?id=16762 I know it’s the lazy thing to do, but I’ll just refer interested readers to this link rather than try to summarize it here.

  3. March 12, 2007 at 8:50 am

    Thanks, David. That’s very interesting. I wasn’t aware of the partisan maneuvering (manipulation?) surrounding the bill, although I suppose I should have assumed it. I think that changes my perspective somewhat–I still think the classes are a good idea, but like I said in my original post, they need to be taught very carefully and in an “objective and non-devotional manner.”

  4. March 19, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    I currently have Bibles in my classroom library….I have approx. 5 in a collection of approx. 300 books (at last count). I don’t put them out in front, but they are among the books the children fight over. I took a course in high school (private and non-Christian based) on Biblical history. Our text was the Bible. I like the idea of the course being offered but like many things the Ga. General Assembly gets its hands on it won’t be what it should and will eventually go away…

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