“…[when] church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”
Isaac Backus (Baptist Minister), 1773 source
I’ve written about this before, but an article in Time Magazine titled “The case for teaching the Bible” in conjunction with this weekend’s Blog Against Theocracy “blogswarm” makes me think I should give it another go.
I’ll make this as brief as my angry little brain will let me (I’ve lost sleep over this post, trying to figure out how to word things so that I sound informed, intelligent, and reasonable rather than just angry and opinionated).
It appears as though the author of the Time article, David van Biema (Time’s senior religion writer), believes that public schools should offer a class that teaches the Bible as a textbook because it is such an influential text. He cites examples of Bible references in politics, pop culture (a feature of the magazine article not included in the online version), etc, and uses these as evidence of why knowing the Bible is important (so we can understand these references).
In an example of “Bible ignorance,” he talks about a case in which the Supreme Court was forced to overturn a jury’s sentence because they used the Bible, particularly the “eye for an eye” passage, as a resource during deliberation. Van Biema suggests that the fault here could lie with anyone involved “who perhaps hadn’t noticed that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus rejects the eye-for-an-eye rule.”
Or, perhaps, the fault lies in the fact that the Bible was brought up at all – not that there wasn’t full understanding of the text. Religion has no place in government proceedings, and ignorance of the Bible should not be a disadvantage in those proceedings.
He goes on to mention statistics that support the idea that we are “a nation of biblical illiterates” (George Gallup), because,
“Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can’t name the Bible’s first book. The trend extends even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.”
I don’t know where he got the statistics – the mention of George Gallup implies the Gallup Organization (home of the Gallup Poll), yet I couldn’t find that information on their website.
I want to spin this a different way. Perhaps the fact that a seemingly increasing number of United States citizens are ignorant of the religious text is not proof that we need to force schools to offer a Bible course, but that the Bible’s influence is waning. Regardless, the government is not allowed to endorse any religion (hello, first amendment – it’s not just about free speech). These classes, however secular they say they are, endorse one particular religion (the article notes that many such classes focus only on the positive influence of the Bible and ignore its negative influence). I would be less up in arms about a class on world religion that included multiple religious texts as sources, but I still feel that those are classes that should be reserved for college. Partly because I feel that finding teachers who are able to teach multiple religious texts in a balanced manner is difficult, but mostly because I feel like a lot of schools don’t have the resources to support core instruction, let alone a class that focuses on religion.
There is no mandate stating that every school must offer music, art, drama, dance, etc as electives, why should the Bible get special treatment? Schools are fighting for decent teachers and the money to teach students the basics – to add to all this the arguably constitutional elective of a Bible class is ridiculous, unnecessary, and (I believe) unconstitutional.
There is nothing preventing people from studying any text outside of government-funded programs – if you want to learn more about the Bible, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve chiseling away at the already eroded wall of separation between church and state (a wall deemed “absolutely essential in a free society” by Thomas Jefferson).
Read my other post in this series, here.
This post is a part of Blog Against Theocracy 2007 – a chance for those who believe in the separation of church and state in the United States to speak out about how they think that separation has been and/or is being compromised. Anyone can participate, click the logo for more information and links to other such posts.