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Legislators Are Pushing For 'Bible Literacy' Classes In Schools, But Not Everyone's On Board

Legislators Are Pushing For 'Bible Literacy' Classes In Schools, But Not Everyone's On Board

Alabama, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia are among the states that have introduced the bill in 2019.

The country has erupted in debate all over again for 'Bible literacy classes'.  These are elective courses in public schools about the Scriptures impact reports CNN. The ones against it are concerned that some teachers might just end up propagating the religion in classes and hence think it is best to separate church and state. Those for the classes believe that students should learn about the Bible and Christianity's influence on world history, culture, and language. Several of the Bible literacy bills have already been struck down or are no longer being considered in current sessions. Most recently, Florida's legislation was "postponed indefinitely".

So far, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia are among the states that have Bible literacy bills in 2019. According to blog Patheos, a number of other states including Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arizona already offer such courses. The law for Bible literacy in these states was passed in the 2000s.



 

Doug Jacobson, a pastor of Eureka Baptist Church in Richland, Missouri, and elementary superintendent at the small public Swedeborg R-3 School District, had a rather diplomatic approach to work around the issue. He said that educators should "open it up to world religions and all different faiths, then you're not trying to proselytize anyone into any particular religion or denomination." According to him, a lot of the Bible's core teachings are already a part of the moral code of today's American education system.

However, there are many that are pushing for these classes. According to Fox News, the North Dakota State Rep. Aaron McWilliams, a Republican, said, "Yeah, there's a separation of church and state, but there's not a separation of books from education. If we don't have a good foundational understanding of this, we're not going to understand how the Founding Fathers of our country and other countries put it together to have the world we have today." Even the unlikeliest candidate, the thrice-married POTUS Donald Trump supported this movement through a tweet in January 2019.



 

"One thing that the Bible does teach is wisdom. I don't think anyone could deny that we so desperately need wisdom in our public schools right now," said Rep. Mike Hill of Florida and a co-sponsor of state's House Bill 195.  A fellow Republican, Rep. Anthony Sabatini, another co-sponsor of the state's Bible literacy bill said that classes would focus on the Bible as a work of literature, specifically the King James Bible, an English translation used in Protestant churches.

Here's where things get interesting. Mark Chancey, an expert on the political, academic and constitution issues raised by Bible courses in public schools, said, "If a course says, we're going to use the King James, then they're basically -- knowingly or not -- promoting Protestantism." He also spoke about the Philadelphia nativist riots of 1844 which happened partially due to the use of the King James version in public schools. The usage of this version was considered part of the anti-Catholic rhetoric. But Chancey says that the best way forward is to include multiple translations of the Bible when considering the course.

The movement for Bible literacy classes has been on and off for the past 20 years, but it was its strongest under Republican leadership in the White House. The Republican Party put the Bible literacy push into writing in its official 2016 platform: "A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America's high schools."

The movement got some major leeway when Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and other evangelical groups created Project Blitz whose aim was to "to protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs."



 

But, as per The Atlantic, many believe this could be a direct violation of the First Amendment and will contest two landmark judgments i.e. the 1948 case of McCollum v. Board of Education and the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale.  For the former, the court ruled that "a state cannot consistently with the First [Amendment] utilize its public school system to aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines." The latter, a controversial case, ruled that compulsory prayer in public schools was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. A group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, have the same opinion. They believe the church-state separation is the only way there will be freedom of religion and have been fighting Project Blitz for more than a year.

While the push is great on both ends, we wonder why there is a need to talk about religion at all in schools. Religion, much like gender or sexuality, is personal. Schools are institutions that are meant for knowledge and education. Instead of pushing any religion, why not just pick out a few core values that all religions preach and just inculcate those as part of the curriculum? Also, be it Buddha or Christ, leading by example seems to have worked best. So why can't teachers just be trained to do that?

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