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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. About the Bible Literacy Project
  2. Our textbook, The Bible and Its Influence
  3. Teaching About the Bible in Public Schools
  4. The Academic Value of Bible Knowledge
  5. Correcting Misconceptions and Inaccurate Reports about our Textbook

1. About the Bible Literacy Project

I’d like to know more about your organization.

The Bible Literacy Project, Inc., is a non-partisan, non-profit endeavor to encourage and facilitate the academic study of the Bible in public schools. Founded in 2001 by Chuck Stetson and Richard Scurry, we believe that failure to teach about the Bible leaves students in ignorance and cultural illiteracy. Please click here to see our boards of directors and advisors and the editorial contributors to the textbook. Our funding comes from individual donors and from several well-known foundations, including the John Templeton Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the William H. Flowers Foundation. Along with the First Amendment Center, the Bible Literacy Project co-published The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, the historic 1999 statement that established guidelines for how to teach about the Bible in public schools. The Guide was endorsed by 21 leading organizations, including the National School Boards Association and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. In 2005, the Bible Literacy Project published The Bible and Its Influence, the first student textbook for academic study of the Bible in public high schools. Since its publication, this program has gained national recognition for its scholarly approach to teaching about the Bible in compliance with First Amendment guidelines. Designed for high school students in grades 9-12, and enjoyed equally by college students and adult learners, The Bible and Its Influence can be taught as an English, social studies, or humanities elective.

Many states have passed legislation to promote public school courses on the Bible. What is your organization's view of these efforts?

Courts have ruled that academic study of the Bible is already legal in every American school district. However, state governments may choose to adopt textbooks or legislation regarding Bible courses in order to fund course materials or promote use of these courses.

Because public school courses on the Bible typically address the subjects of English literature, humanities, and social studies, there is not always an obvious place for our textbook to be considered in the textbook adoption process. Legislation should provide state funding to assist local school districts that choose to offer academic courses on the Bible, and ensure that these courses can be credited toward graduation. We favor legislation that does not prohibit the continuation of existing and legally sound public school Bible courses, and which provides a level playing field for all publishers by allowing local districts to choose the curriculum they prefer.

The Bible Literacy Project is a non-partisan movement. We seek broad-based support for our efforts to facilitate academic study of the Bible in public schools.

How can I contact you?

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2. Our textbook, The Bible and Its Influence

What kind of course do you offer?

We offer a student textbook entitled The Bible and Its Influence, released on September 22nd, 2005. Online teacher training is now available nationwide, and a teacher’s edition of the textbook was released in late August 2006. This new textbook was created to fulfill the standards of the consensus statement The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide. The textbook has been reviewed by scholars and teachers, respects faith perspectives without endorsing them, and is the first public school Bible textbook of its kind.

A primary goal of the course is basic Biblical literacy--a grasp of the language, major narratives, and characters of the Bible. The course also explores the influence of the Bible in classic and contemporary poems, plays, and novels.

Of course, the Bible is not merely literature--for a number of religious traditions it is sacred text. Our curriculum and online teacher training prepare teachers to address the relevant, major religious readings of the text in an academic and objective manner.

See our curriculum area for more program details.

What are the benefits of using a student textbook in a Bible course?

This course requires that students read directly from the Bible alongside the student textbook. The value of a student textbook is that it prevents the teacher from veering away from First Amendment standards. In addition, the exquisitely beautiful artwork and unique feature sections on the Bible’s influence on culture are visually exciting and enriching for teenagers. The course is designed to allow the content of the Bible to "speak for itself."

How does a school system begin using this textbook?

Every state and locality is different. Educators who need information or resources see our get involved page or call (866)-633-0585 (toll free).

Which Bible translation should be used?

The Bible Literacy Project believes the best approach is to let students use whatever translation they prefer. When the textbook includes excerpts from the Bible, it uses among a variety of several translations so that there is a broad representation inside the textbook.

How will theological questions be addressed in the classroom?

This course provides an academic study of Biblical narratives and their influence on literature and culture; it does not promote or discourage religious belief. Theological questions should be referred to the student’s faith leader. Our online teacher training and the teacher’s edition of The Bible and Its Influence will facilitate classroom discussions and provide answers to questions included in the student textbook.

What about other curricula for study of the Bible in public schools? How does yours compare?

A recent Gallup poll found that only 8% of public school teens say they have access to an elective course on the Bible, yet experts say greater Bible knowledge is needed for a good education (Bible Literacy Report, April 2005). We believe that this situation is due in part to the recent lack of a legal and rigorous curriculum that can be used nationwide. While some English teachers have created their own courses, most teachers do not have the time or resources to create their own legally acceptable Bible course.

Some curricula simply offer a teacher’s manual. Ours is the first student textbook created to fulfill the legal standards of The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, the first to provide university-based, online teacher training, and the first to provide comprehensive coverage of how the Bible has influenced literature, art, music, history and culture.

How was the textbook created?

The Bible Literacy Project first created an outline of the Bible’s content and then hired writers with experience in textbook writing, literature, religion, art, and music. The first draft was then reviewed by lawyers who specialize in First Amendment standards, and was submitted to 40 reviewers. Our reviewers included eminent university literature scholars; Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish Biblical scholars and public high school English teachers who teach the Bible as literature. Our general editor, Cullen Schippe, the former vice president and publisher for Music, Religion and Social Studies at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, incorporated the reviewers’ feedback into the textbook.

Budget constraints may inhibit some school districts from implementing this course. May sources outside the school system fund a Bible class?

Funding for elective courses, including those on the Bible, may be provided by outside sources as long as the funds are contributed with “no strings attached.”

3. Teaching About the Bible in Public Schools

Doesn’t this course violate the First Amendment and the separation between church and state?

Academic study of the Bible in public schools is legal in all 50 states of the union. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools may not require devotional use of the Bible. In that same decision, however, the Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged that academic study of the Bible in public schools is constitutional, as part of a good education. In his majority opinion to the court in Abington v. Schempp, Justice Thomas Clark wrote:

"It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of …the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. …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."

Increasing knowledge about the Bible is part of a good education; but teaching what to believe belongs in the home. We advocate providing a well-rounded, thorough education that includes the basic information students need to fully understand literature, as well as art, music, history and culture.

 In 1999, the Bible Literacy Project and the First Amendment Center co-published The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, which established an historic consensus about how the Bible can be taught constitutionally as an academic subject. This Guide has been endorsed by 21 national groups-- from what people might consider both liberal and conservative perspectives. Signatories include the National School Boards Association and major faith organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., the American Jewish Congress, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Isn’t teaching about the Bible the job of parents and churches, not the public schools?

Faith formation is indeed the responsibility of parents and religious communities, not the public schools. However, the great authors of literature assumed that the general population understood the basic themes of the Bible. Our study, the Bible Literacy Report, released in April 2005, reveals that we are raising a generation that teachers say is “clueless” about the context for some of the most basic phrases in our common language. These phrases show up on the front page of the nation’s newspapers, like "road to Damascus experience," "walking on water," "seen the promised land," and the like.

Students without knowledge of the Bible are limited in understanding the meaning and importance of the great works of Western and American art. The teachers we studied said these students have more difficulty in their English classes. They will also be disadvantaged on major standardized tests. In one of the popular study workbooks for the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition exam, more than 60% of the allusions recommended for test-takers are from the Bible.

For more information on this topic please read see our Academic Rationale page.

What is the difference between teaching about the Bible and religious indoctrination?

The following statements distinguish between teaching about the Bible in public schools, and religious indoctrination:

  • The school’s approach is academic, not devotional.
  • The school may strive for student awareness of religions, but should not press for student acceptance of any religion.
  • The school may sponsor study about religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion.
  • The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose, discourage, or encourage any particular view.
  • The school may educate about religions, but may not promote or denigrate any religion.
  • The school may inform the student about various beliefs, but should not seek to conform him or her to any particular belief.

(Source: The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, pages 5-13)

How should a Bible literature class be taught?

When teaching about the Bible in a public school, teachers must understand the important distinction between advocacy, indoctrination, proselytizing, and the practice of religion - which is unconstitutional - and teaching about religion that is objective, nonjudgmental, academic, neutral, balanced, and fair - which is constitutional. The class should neither promote nor disparage religion, nor should it be taught from a particular sectarian point of view.

Supernatural occurrences and divine action described in the Bible may not be taught as historical fact in a public school. The historicity of many persons and events described in the Bible may or may not be confirmed by evidence outside of Biblical literature.

(Source: The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, pages 5-13)

Who should teach the class?

A superintendent or school board should select teachers for a class about the Bible in the same manner all other teachers are selected. School districts should not delegate the employment of such teachers to an outside committee that selects teachers based upon their religious beliefs or perspectives. Teachers should be selected based upon their academic qualifications, rather than their religious beliefs or non-beliefs. Teachers should not be disqualified, however, simply because they have received religious training.

(Source: The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, pages 5-13)

4. The Academic Value of Bible Knowledge

What research has been done to demonstrate the academic value of Bible literacy?

In April 2005, the Bible Literacy Project released Bible Literacy Report: What do American teens need to know and what do they know? The report found that 98% of leading English teachers around the country said knowledge of the Bible gives students a distinct educational advantage. An accompanying Gallup poll of 1,002 young people found that almost half did not know that Jesus turned water into wine at the Cana wedding, and nearly two-thirds couldn't identify a quote from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount or the relation of the road to Damascus to the Apostle Paul's conversion. About one-in-10 thought Moses was one of Jesus' 12 apostles.

In June 2006, we released the Bible Literacy Report II: What University Professors Say Incoming Students Need to Know, which revealed that English professors surveyed at leading universities--including Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford--agree that “regardless of a person’s faith, an educated person needs to know about the Bible.” The report surveyed 39 English professors at 34 top U.S. colleges and universities, who said that knowledge of the Bible is a deeply important part of a good education.

For more information or to download copies of the studies, please visit the Resource Page.

Can you give examples of specific books that particularly require an understanding of Bible passages?

Teachers in the study cited a wide range of literature that contains Biblical allusions, such as The Grapes of Wrath, Animal Farm, Great Expectations, The Sound and The Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird, Song of Solomon, Brave New World, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Pearl, A Separate Peace, and Lord of the Flies, to name only a few.

The following are a few teachers’ remarks on the relevance of the Bible to the study of English literature:

  • "It's difficult to pick up a work of literature that doesn't have some reference to the Bible."
  • "I think all the more complex works of literature reference it."
  • "I wouldn't say [literature] is steeped with it. It's saturated with it."

5. Correcting Misconceptions and Inaccurate Reports About Our Textbook

Why is the Bible Literacy Project being criticized?

Outstanding success always brings attacks. In just over two years, our textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, has become the most widely used public school Bible curriculum -- used in 43 states, approved by the Alabama State Board of Education, and praised in a TIME Magazine cover story as a  "model" for public school Bible courses.

The Bible Literacy Project has achieved this success by bringing people together -- Evangelicals, Jews, Catholics, educators, scholars, and parents who want our young people to learn about the Bible in public schools. A small group of critics, supporting a competing public school Bible curriculum, attack our course with the hope of promoting one they prefer -- unwittingly lending support to those who would eliminate all mention of the Bible from public life.

Criticisms Misguided, Untrue

Sadly, these critics are sometimes deeply misinformed. One argued that a reference to the famous Christian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov was evidence of the Bible Literacy Project’s promotion of Communism. But the textbook does no such thing, nor would that be the intention of its authors. Others continue to criticize phrases that have long been removed from the textbook.

Others have gone even further, releasing information that has no basis in fact, although they have been repeatedly asked by the Bible Literacy Project to consider the Biblical value of speaking only the truth.

The Bible Literacy Project’s widely acclaimed textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, has never been supported or endorsed by the ACLU, People for the American Way, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the National Education Association, the Council on Islamic Education, UNESCO, or the Baptist Joint Committee for Legislative and Public Affairs. (Please see the list of endorsing scholars here.) Yet our course has never suffered a legal challenge, because it is widely acknowledged that our textbook is both respectful of the Bible as a sacred text AND completely First-Amendment-safe for public schools.

Others have said that our course prohibits students from reading the Bible. On the contrary, our course requires each student to use his own Bible, turning to our textbook to learn how a particular passage has influenced Western culture. For example, after students read the words of Mark’s gospel in the translation their families prefer, they learn in our textbook that these words were the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Does your course provide students with a textbook about the Bible but prevent students from actually reading the Bible for themselves? Do you think that your textbook is better than the Bible?

No. Our course requires students to use TWO books -- our textbook and the Bible translation of their choice. Our textbook is designed to be read in conjunction with the Bible, so that after students read a particular Bible passage, they learn about the great works of literature and art that were inspired by that passage. No textbook can substitute for the Bible and we have never claimed that ours does.

Does your textbook "present the Bible as myth and stories, undermining the authority of the Bible"?

No. Since 1999, we have stated that academic teaching about the Bible should not undermine the beliefs of those who accept the Bible as sacred scripture. The textbook's 40 reviewers -- scholars representing evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish communities -- have ensured that the material in The Bible and Its Influence reflects an accurate reporting of the Bible narrative, characters, and content. "Our textbook aims for a straight forward reporting of what the Bible says. There is no content in our textbook that is intended to either promote or undermine faith," says Bible Literacy Project Chairman Chuck Stetson. "We encourage people to get a copy and read it for themselves."

The textbook has widely representative endorsements, ranging from Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, Bishop Richard Sklba, chair of the Catholic Biblical Association, and other nationally renowned leaders, including Chuck Colson, Vonette Bright, Joe Stowell, and many others.

Rev. Peter Lillback, Ph.D., president of Westminster Theological Seminary, is one of the 40 scholars who reviewed The Bible and Its Influence, addresses the accuracy of the textbook. "The informational content, accuracy, exposition, illustrations, and tone are all extremely well done, and I congratulate you on a highly accurate and readable presentation," says Lillback.

Who is Charles Haynes?

Charles Haynes is not an official spokesperson, staff, advisor, or director for the Bible Literacy Project, but speaks on behalf of the First Amendment Center. An expert on the First Amendment in public schools, he is one of 40 scholars who reviewed our textbook, including scholars from evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish backgrounds so that The Bible and Its Influence would be allowable for public school use and accurately represent the perspective of faith groups which consider the Bible as sacred text. These 40 reviewers of The Bible and Its Influence also included scholars from Wheaton College, Gordon College, Baylor University, Westmont College and Westminster Seminary, as well as the general counsel of the American Jewish Congress and the chair of the Catholic Biblical Association.


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