On Tuesday, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed legislation clarifying the legality of Bible literacy classes in that state. The law directs the state’s Department of Education to develop policies for use by public schools in offering Bible courses.
This may surprise some people: the Bible is already an approved textbook for literature and history courses in U.S. public schools. As a cornerstone text of world history and Western civilization, learning about the Bible and learning what the Bible actually says helps students become culturally literate. Organizations with such diverse beliefs as the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Association of Evangelicals to the National Education Association affirm the educational importance of the Bible.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled: 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 part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.
This means when the Bible is taught in public schools it cannot be done so in a way that promotes nor denigrates any religion. The Bible is the only textbook in these courses as a way of ensuring that no particular viewpoint is given preference in terms of interpretation. When students ask questions, the answer is, “what does the text say?”
A joint effort of religious (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim), civil rights and educational organizations provided schools constitutionally-sound principles for using the Bible as a text. For example: “The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional.”
This type of class would look at these questions: What can we learn about early Middle Eastern history by studying the Old Testament? What can we learn about the nature of man? What are we missing in terms of cultural references if we do not have a basic biblical literacy?
Unfortunately, not everyone knows the robust legal support for including the Bible as a textbook for study. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has bullied teachers, schools, and school districts into abandoning the Bible as a textbook.
Even though Kentucky’s law actually helps clarify what is— and is not— acceptable for the classroom, the FFRF and others will see the law as tantamount to the establishment of a religion. But what the FFRF might really want to consider are the findings of Barna’s newest research, commissioned by the American Bible Society, on the State of the Bible 2017. There we learn that only 13% of Americans are actually “Bible hostile.”
A large majority (87%) of Americans actually have a Bible in their homes. Even the majority of skeptics and those hostile to the Bible own one. And while half of those surveyed engage the Bible at least occasionally, more than half, 58%, “wish they read the Bible more often.” In fact, 22% of skeptics and 21% of non-Christians wish they engaged the Bible more! So, studying the Bible in schools has interest for the culture at large.