Richland Senior High School is making history this spring, as
school officials announced a new course: The Bible as Literature.
“I think we’re on the cutting edge with this in the area,” Principal
Tom Fleming said.
“It’s groundbreaking territory for us, and there certainly is a
movement to get this more readily available.”
will be the first school in Pennsylvania to teach the Bible Literacy
Project’s version of the elective course – though at least one other
organization, The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public
Schools, claims other school districts in the state already use a
version of Bible-as-literature courses. Neither the council nor the
Bible Literacy Project make public the names of participating
According to Sheila Weber, the Bible Literacy Project’s
communications vice president, this version of the course is being
offered in 83 schools throughout 30 states and five countries.
“We are fairly new,” she said. “This school year was really the
first year we’ve had our textbook out. And we are seeing a huge
increase for next year.”
And, already, the project is gaining a lot of media attention,
including a cover story in the current issue of Time magazine.
Efforts to introduce similar classes across the country have been
well received, according to biblesinschools.net, the Web site of the
National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
That organization says that 373 school districts in 37 states,
including Pennsylvania, offer such classes.
Using a textbook called “The Bible and Its Influence,” Richland
teachers will examine the Bible as a work of literature and not
discuss religious beliefs.
“This is about education, not religion,” Weber said. “The textbook
was uniquely written for public high schools, and it’s all across
the country, not just in the ‘Bible Belt.’
“Courts have said you can teach its content but not promote nor
disparage religious beliefs.”
Fleming wants students and parents to know that this is just another
course being offered, and that there is no requirement to enroll in
“Our stance is that it is an elective course,” he said. “If it’s
something (students are) interested in, it will be available to
them. But there haven’t yet been any objections or positive
That is because the student course book for next year hasn’t been
mailed home yet, and the decision to add the course was made without
“A few weeks ago, Msgr. (Michael) Becker made a presentation to our
school board about adding the course, and they were receptive.”
Becker, of St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church in Geistown, said the
idea to bring this Bible course to the area came about a year and a
half ago, when he read about it.
“I followed my nose and read up a bit more,” Becker said. “Everyone
I spoke with said it was a great idea, so I spoke with the principal
and school board members. Their response was exceptionally positive.
I didn’t hear any negatives.”
And he doesn’t anticipate many negative responses once word gets
“Do I anticipate any opposition? No, because they can choose not to
take the course.”
Both Fleming and Becker said the course is designed to analyze the
Bible as a work of literature, not as a religious work.
Consequently, students will take an in-depth look at an influential
book in an effort to further advance their college preparation.
“I think most of the kids taking it will be college-bound and will
be able to discuss literature at a higher level,” Fleming said. “It
might end up being a course just for juniors and seniors, but we’re
not sure for now.”
Becker said he has had several conversations with a Pitt-Johnstown
literature professor who has taught a similar course to her college
“I think it is a tremendous step in helping young people prepare for
college,” he said. “And, from a clergyman’s perspective, I think
understanding the Bible can prompt students to explore other
spiritual ideas on their own.
“But that is not a step for schools to take.”
“What we have found is that the vast majority is thrilled with
this,” she said, adding that views on the subject tend to be
extreme. “There are a limited number of folks who would prefer that
schools teach Sunday school materials. Then there is a group that
says the Bible should be out of daily life.”
The Bible Literacy Project sits right in the middle, Becker says –
which is why he hopes it will grow in the area.
“Nationally, they’re talking about it, and there is other interest
in the area,” he said. “It’s already being discussed in other
schools in the county.
“That tells us we are ahead of the curve in Richland.”
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