New U.S. textbook aims to teach Bible
By Alan Elsner
Thursday, December 1, 2005; Posted: 10:04 a.m. EST (15:04 GMT)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Since the U.S. Supreme Court banned
the promotion of religion in public schools in 1963, the Bible
has virtually disappeared from most American classrooms.
But in recent years, as evangelical Christians have grown in
numbers and gained political clout in the United States, Bible
studies have been creeping back into schools.
Now, a new textbook for high school students aims to fill a
gap by teaching the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, in a
non-sectarian, nonreligious way as a central document of Western
civilization with a vast influence on its literature, art,
culture and politics.
"It's not about belief. It's about crucial knowledge and
knowledge belongs in our schools," said Chuck Stetson, a New
York investment banker who is the driving force behind and
co-author of "The Bible and Its Influence" -- a glossy, 387-page
book recently released and now being tested in a small number of
schools mainly on the West Coast.
Stetson knows he was stepping into a potential minefield. But
he said polls have shown that over two-thirds of Americans want
to see the Bible taught in public schools while only around 8
percent of schools were offering it.
The process of approving the book for use in schools differs
from state to state and district to district. In some places, it
can be added to the curriculum as an elective by the principal;
other areas require the approval of a local school board and in
some places the state itself would have to approve it. Stetson
is hoping to see the book used by hundreds of school districts
by the next academic year.
"This is the first student textbook we've had that is both
constitutional and age appropriate," said Charles Hayes of the
Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan foundation
that monitors free speech.
"It teaches the subject in a way that will satisfy people who
take the Bible as their scripture, but it will also appeal to a
broad range of students interested in becoming biblically
literate," he said.
"The Bible and Its Influence" is not the only game in town. A
North Carolina group called the National Council on Bible
Curriculum in the Public Schools has a Bible course now being
used in 380 school districts in 37 states.
'Crosses the line'
The Anti Defamation League has denounced this program, which
uses the King James translation of the Bible as its text, saying
it "blatantly crosses the line by teaching fundamental
Protestant doctrine." But the group's legal counsel Mike Johnson
"Take the resurrection of Christ. A teacher cannot tell a
classroom that it's a historical fact. That would be a violation
of the Constitution. But a teacher can say that the Bible says
it's a historical fact," he said.
"One can't teach that the Bible is objectively true, but one
shouldn't teach that it's objectively false," he added.
"The Bible and Its Influence" sets out its ground rules and
philosophy on its opening pages. "You are going to study the
Bible academically, not devotionally. In other words, you are
learning about the Bible and its role in language and culture,"
it tells its readers.
"You will be given an awareness of religious content of the
Bible but you will not be pressed into accepting religion. You
will study about religion as presented in the Bible but you will
not be engaged in the practice of religion."
With prominent theologians of different religions and
denominations among its editorial board, the authors made a
serious effort to make sure that the book did not elevate one
religion over any other.
"We caught quite a few factual mistakes, but I also looked
for places where the Christian point of view was assumed. There
were some and we made some changes," said Marc Stein, general
counsel of the American Jewish Committee who reviewed the text
Still, there has been criticism of the book coming from both
the political left and right. Barry Lynn of Americans United for
the Separation of Church and State said the book sanitized the
effect of religion throughout history, by minimizing Christian
support for slavery and Christian anti-Semitism.
"To teach religion objectively, you really have to teach the
good, the bad and the ugly and this book only teaches the good,"
On the other side, Dennis Cuddy, a Christian who has worked
as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Education, said the
book raised doubts about God and prompted students to ask the
"If you are going to teach the Bible, are you going to teach
it as if it were the word of God? At the least, it should be
taught as truthful. It shouldn't be presented as something that
is false," he said.
[Editorial Note from the Bible Literacy Project- We do not
present the Bible as false and do not seek to undermine the faith of
students. We allow the text of the Bible to speak for itself.]
But Joan Spence, a high school teacher in Battleground,
Washington, said she as well as students of her elective English
class on the Bible appreciated it very much.
"Before I had this book, I had to do all the research myself
to teach a class on the Bible as literature. This book, with its
many examples of art and literature, makes it easier to keep the
class academic rather than religious," she said.
Copyright ©2005 Reuters.