Bible Literacy Project News
Teaching without preaching
Law aims for biblical literacy without proselytizing
By State Senator Craig Estes
"David and his Goliath of ambition." That is how
one newspaper article during the 2007 session of the Texas Legislature
was headlined regarding Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Without any knowledge
or understanding of the biblical story behind David and Goliath, this
headline and its intended impression has little or no meaning. Without a
second thought, the reporter or editor who crafted the headline
unwittingly demonstrated that the literary influence of the Bible
extends well beyond Sunday mornings.
In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a bill, which I was proud to
sponsor through the Senate, to require public schools to offer a
non-devotional, academic elective course in biblical text if such a
course were requested by 15 students in grades nine through twelve12.
This elective course is intended to promote biblical literacy to fully
understand and appreciate our historical writings and contemporary
There is little serious debate that biblical literacy is important to
understanding the underpinnings of Western civilization, American
history and contemporary culture. American political, civil and literary
writings and speeches make oblique and direct text references borrowed
from the Bible. One academic study even found as many as 1,300 biblical
references in the collected works of William Shakespeare.
The debate that has arisen over this issue does not center on the value
of biblical literacy to a well-rounded education; but rather, on whether
such a study can be achieved without violating the Establishment Clause
of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in ruling against prayer in public schools, left
room for academic instruction so long as it is "presented objectively as
part of a secular program of education," to quote the late Justice Tom
Therefore, it is permissible to study the story of David and Goliath
with an understanding of the Jewish writer's conviction of God's role in
that event, while not requiring a student to share in that same
This issue of indoctrination is not limited simply to courses in
Conservatives may be concerned whether political science teachers are
indoctrinating liberal positions.
Free-market capitalists may be concerned with economics teachers
instilling an appreciation for socialism or communism.
And, of course, many people of faith believe in religious explanations
for human existence while the public education system provides only a
We trust our teachers to teach their subjects in politics, economics and
science in a manner that is well-rounded and without indoctrination.
There is no reason to believe a teacher entrusted with the task of
teaching the text of the Bible would be any less professional in this
In an April 2007 cover story in Time magazine, the writer answers
whether the Bible should be taught in public schools with a simple,
"yes, but carefully."
The point of the article was to stress teaching without preaching. That
is what distinguishes a Bible course as an elective in public school
from a Bible class on Sunday morning.
Critics in opposition to teaching the Bible should join in being
guardians against indoctrination and help shape the secular presentation
rather than simply being a "Goliath" in opposition to biblical literacy.
I strongly support the constitutional prohibition against religious
indoctrination as a citizen, parent and lawmaker; however, it should not
become a tool to remove or bar an academic study of the best-selling and
most influential book in world history from our public schools.
Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, is chairman of the Texas Senate's
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Coastal Resources.
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle