Educators and special interest groups are increasingly in conflict about the role of teaching the Bible in public schools, reports the Washington Post (June 4).
While courses on the Bible are not yet widespread, they are growing in popularity, particularly in the southeastern U.S. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which is leading the push for such courses, reports that there are elective Bible classes in 116 school districts in 29 states. The issue of contention concerns how these classes are being taught — whether they teach about the Bible or from the Bible.
Much of the conflict can be seen in classes where students and teachers view the Bible teaching as a source of moral and spiritual wisdom and any critical views are discouraged. When this happens, groups pressing for church-state separation usually report such cases to school officials.
The National Bible Association and the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University issued a report on Bible teaching in the schools to prevent abuses, but observers point out that it is difficult to teach this subject within constitutional bounds (courses on the Bible as literature tend to have less problems than classes on the Bible as history). Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center says that “Most Bible electives being taught in the South right now are probably unconstitutional. There hasn’t been a strong tradition in most of these states of doing it right. Evangelicals don’t want kids to know there’s all this scholarly debate about things that they consider revealed truth.”
For their part, students and some teachers see the opposition to their classes as anti-Bible and anti-Christian sentiment. For this reason, there is fear of unwanted publicity for the schools involved in Bible teaching, as it may lead to these courses being shut down.