High schools across the nation are considering an elective course
in Bible literacy. That's pitting advocates of church-state
separation against proponents of the class who say their mission is
Lawmakers in Alabama and. Georgia in the past few weeks have
introduced legislation clearing the way for their high schools to
offer the course, which is based on the textbook The Bible and
Bible Literacy Project
Featured in USA Today, January 25, 2006
The book's publisher, the Fairfax, Va,-based Bible Literacy
Project, says about 300 school districts are considering the course,
which covers the Old Testament, followed by both Jews and
Christians, and the New Testament, the story of Jesus and his
In the past week, the school board in New Braunfels, Texas, voted to
offer the course next year. Some high schools in California, Oregon
and Washington, where the text was tested in a pilot program last
year, already are offering it.
Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment
Center, says the textbook, which is promoted as an examination of
the Bible's influence on literature, art, history and culture,
successfully keeps religion out of public schools. The center is a
non-profit institute that promotes constitutional freedoms covered
by the First Amendment.
"If you’re considering a Bible elective, look at this textbook,"
says Haynes, who helped review a draft of the book with 41 other
scholars, including Christians, Jews and agnostics. "They've done a
Herculean effort to make it as constitutional as they could,"
The textbook does have critics, including Americans United for the
Separation of Church and State.
“There has been an effort underway for many years to try to do an
end run around the Supreme Court's rulings on religion in the
schools, and we see this as the latest move," says Joseph Conn, a
spokesman for the group.
The textbook has generated no lawsuits, says Sheila Weber, a
spokeswoman for the Bible Literacy Project. Jeremy Gunn, director of
the American Civil Liberties Union's Program on Freedom of Religion
and Beliefs, also says he hasn't heard of any litigation.
"If people were to actually implement this in a fair and neutral
way, there wouldn't be any lawsuits," Gunn says. "If people are
going to use this as a backdoor way to proselytizing in public
schools, I would imagine there would be lawsuits.”
Conn says the textbook paints the Bible's influence mostly in a
positive light. However, Chuck Stetson, founder of the Bible
Literacy Project, says the textbook does examine the Bible's
negative impact. As an example, he sites a boxed feature in the book
that he says shows the Bible was used "to justify and even encourage
Stetson describes the course as being academic and says it helps
connect the dots for students who would not be able, for example, to
understand the works of Shakespeare without understanding their
Linn reports daily for the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.
Contributing: Kasie Hunt in McLean, Va.