Bibles in Public Schools -- Can We? Should We?

At about the time I started elementary school in the early 1960s the Supreme Court put an end to devotional Bible reading in public schools. Now, I went to school in California and Oregon and I don't think such things had been present for decades if at all. The question that has arisen lately concerns whether the Bible can or should be taught in public schools, and if it can, what should be the methodology of its teaching. The arguments for teaching the Bible vary from its place as a means of supporting America's moral fabric -- but that doesn't cut it in my mind. A better reason for teaching the Bible is because of the important role it plays in Western history and literary traditions. Then the rub comes -- how do we teach it? For many Christians and probably some Jews, the Bible is a literal history book and should be taught as such. That becomes problematic for those of us who believe in a more critical approach.

Several states have taken steps to support the teaching of the Bible. Some have written laws in such a way that it supports a conservative Christian agenda. This, in my mind is bad news, but it reflects the fact that a vocal conservative Christian block is pushing for this. Thus, we need to be aware of all the facts.

There are at this moment two primary curriculums, one representing a very conservative Christian agenda --It is sponsored by a group called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. Among its sponsors is James Kennedy, a leading Christian Right figure. The other is called The Bible and It's Influence. This is a curriculum that has been put together by a broad range of scholars and offers university based instruction for teachers (most social studies and English teachers are unprepared to teach the Bible). The sponsor is the Bible Literacy project ( It has been endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals and the People for the American Way. Of course proponents of the first curriculum have done everything they can to undermine the latter. If we follow it's lead, more harm than good will be done. So, hopefully, the Bible Literacy Project will get its day!

I believe that with so many biblical allusions in Western literature it would be useful for the Bible to be taught in a critical fashion, but not as a religious text for the purpose of religious instruction. That's what churches are for!

Anyway, there is an excellent article in the most recent issue of the Seventh Day Adventist Journal -- Liberty -- entitled "The New Bible Wars: Winning Without Thumping." It's written by Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum, First Amendment Center, in Arlington, VA.


Anonymous said…
Thanks, I have been following this too. The Bible Literacy Project has NOT been endorsed by PFAW, please see here.
Robert Cornwall said…
To Anonymous, thank you for this correction. I actually misread the statement by Charles Haymes, who is an endorser. People for the American Way, the Christian Legal Society, American Jewish Congress and the National Association of Evangelicals have endorsed a statement on constitutional and educational standards entitled: "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide," which is avaliable from, of which Haymes is connected. Again thank you for the clarification!

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