Separation of church (the Bible) and state (public schools)

“…[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.
Blog Against Theocracy

13 thoughts on “Separation of church (the Bible) and state (public schools)

  1. Thorne says:

    Excellent. Have you seen this commentary about the fact that the Time Magazine’s Cover story that you reference here was a special North America edition? That the rest of the world recieved a different cover and cover story? It’s pretty interesting.

  2. Thorne says:

    oops. Here’s the URL

  3. Miss Fox says:

    I’m not sure why html doesn’t work in the comments… I’ll see about that.

    Regardless, thank you tons for this! Truly, I didn’t know about the two covers, and am grateful for the heads up. Adds a bit of depth to the whole thing… I only glanced through the commentary (I intend to read the whole thing later), but I’m curious as to how often Time has done this, if ever before.

    It does keep the gears turning…

  4. Tengrain says:

    Well said Miss Fox – you hit the issue on the head. What worries me most about this idea (all of it worries me) is who will end up teaching it, should it pass. What values will this person bring to the classroom, even if somehow it could be detangled from religion itself.

    Regards,

    Tengrain

  5. Miss Fox says:

    Sadly, it already has passed in many areas – including my home state of North Carolina:

    “…there are groups (somewhat successfully) trying to get the Bible taught in schools; the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, the Bible Literacy Project, and Bible in the Schools, among others. According the first organization, “The Bible course curriculum has been voted into 373 school districts in 37 states… 190,000 students have already taken our course.”” (taken from my previous post on the subject, Teaching the Bible?)

  6. jes says:

    this kind of stuff makes me quezzy
    and i agree, possibly, if an agnostic, taught multiple religious texts, in an informative/non opinionated manner. then, i MAY begin to accept it.

    its so hard to raise free thinkers in todays society. brians mom sent the baby a stuffed horse the other day and she says to me “what does it do?” and i began to think how animated/motorized/automatic/etc toys, amougst other things, are these days. children hardly have a chance to be creative.
    it frustrates me.

  7. Clytemnestra says:

    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).

    It’s such a Euro chauvinist view that are among the things that bother me here. By the same token we should then be teaching an entire class each on the Quran, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and Engels book on Karl Marx. An entire public school class devoted to teaching a religious text when schools, thanks to NCLB, can’t really even teach critical thought any more, is little more than evangelism in sheep’s clothing.

    Instead of looking at the real remedies to gaining back good teachers (like commensurate pay, to compensate for the fact that the best and brightest women are no longer related to two careers (teaching and nursing). We get under funded NCLB which reduces teaching from art and teacher to automaton. (but that’s another soap box)

    I would much rather we made mandatory geography and full world history (starting with pre-history and Sumar and up today so that our children understand where they fit in the world (that it is not a series of isolated events but that civilizations, including ours, owe every civilization that came before it, that these civilizations were in fact brilliant (we never hear about the Indus Valley civilization), and honesty about how country came to be (hiding the truth does not make you strong, it just makes the disenfranchised angry).

    We also need mandatory geography and culture classes so we cease this absurd practice of only learning about other countries when we go to war with them.

    What we don’t need is any additional blurring of church and state. If you want your kid to learn about the Bible, send them to a religious school – but leave me out of paying for it.

    good post

  8. […] the f-ed up cousin of Jimmy Dean (at MPS) Vagabond Scholar Ron’s Blog Journeys with Jood The Learning Curve Pissed in NYC (at MPS) This *is* it. Tangled up in Blue Guy A Stitch in Haste One Act in the […]

  9. […] the f-ed up cousin of Jimmy Dean (at MPS)Vagabond ScholarRon’s BlogJourneys with JoodThe Learning CurvePissed in NYC (at MPS)This is it.Tangled up in Blue GuyA Stitch in HasteOne Act in the Eternal Play […]

  10. betmo says:

    one can only hope that christianity is on the wane here. of course they want to keep america ‘religious’- how better to control the population. in that regard, they should be grateful for the influx of predominately catholic immigrants from central and south america. oh- right- they answer to the pope not george bush. my mistake. nice series.

  11. […] the f-ed up cousin of Jimmy Dean (at MPS)Vagabond ScholarRon’s BlogJourneys with JoodThe Learning CurvePissed in NYC (at MPS)This *is* it.Tangled up in Blue GuyA Stitch in HasteOne Act in the Eternal […]

  12. […] The Learning Curve: “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.” […]

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