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Groups tout Bible’s educational benefits
The Advocate

By Stephen P. Clark
Staff Writer
November 25, 2006

Two religious advocacy groups seeking to teach public high school and college students about the Bible announced this week they are taking their message to the sky.

As part of National Bible Week, which ends tomorrow, the Bible Literacy Project and the National Bible Association have joined forces to launch 500 billboards nationwide that read: "An Educated Person Knows the Bible."

According to two recent reports published by the Bible association, many high school English teachers and professors from elite universities agree that students need to know the Bible to gain a good education, but increasingly few do.

"We have a tremendous disconnect in public school education," said Chuck Stetson, chairman and founder of the Bible Literacy Project, based in Fairfax, Va.

Stetson points to national surveys that show educators recognize the importance of knowing the Bible, yet only 8 percent of public schools teach it despite legal approval of courses taught as an academic elective.

Last year, the group released a high school textbook, "The Bible and its Influence," that details the Bible's impact on Western culture. The textbook has been endorsed by moderate Christian and Jewish groups and the Bible Literacy Project says 82 school districts in 29 states are using it while 900 other schools are considering it.

But the Americans United for Separation of Church and State says that although religion should be taught in public schools, the Bible Literacy Project's message is flawed. "The idea that public schools ought to have this one class because students are coming out of school uneducated, I just don't buy it," said Jeremy Leaming, a spokesman for the group. "I do think they have a curriculum to sell."

Leaming wondered why the Bible is the only ancient text being promoted. "Where's the curriculum on the Koran, or on Buddhism?" he said.

Sheila Weber, a spokeswoman for the Bible Literacy Project, countered, "I would imagine they could teach those texts in the same spirit as the Bible. However, our focus is on the Bible because the Bible is what influenced British and American literature - from Shakespeare to Hemingway. We make no apologies that this is a course on the Bible."

The billboard campaign is the latest effort in the culture war over religious influence in public affairs. Public schools, where some parents have sued school districts for promoting religion, have been a chief battleground. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored Bible reading was unconstitutional, but allowed for objective study about religion.

The Bible is used as a course study in some Connecticut high schools but not in Stamford schools. Instead, the Bible is covered in Stamford courses such as Ancient World History and Senior Philosophy, said Reginald Roberts, district program director for social studies.

Roberts agreed that students need to know how religion has influenced cultures but disagreed with the billboard's slogan. "You don't need to study the Bible itself to understand American history," he said.

According to the reports, "Bible Literacy Report I: What American teens know and need to know," and "Bible Literacy Report II: What university professors say incoming students need to know," students do not know enough about the Bible to properly understand British and American literature or understand the Bible's impact on art, music, history and culture.

Professors from several universities, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford, agreed in a survey that knowledge of the Bible is an important part of a good education.

The textbook will help bridge the gap, Weber said.

But Leaming, whose group reviewed "The Bible and its Influence" for a magazine last year, said the textbook is incomplete. "It doesn't touch on any negative impact of the Bible," he said. "It's been used to justify slavery, demonize gay people. But they don't want to talk about that influence."

Weber, who said the textbook offers examples of the Bible being misused to foster anti-Semitism and racism, dismissed the argument.

"The purpose of the textbook was not to show how the Bible was misused, but rather to give an overview of the content of the Bible in a constitutional manner," she said in a statement. "If we were to have debunked the Bible, we would have not been respectful of faith traditions."

Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.


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