Bible Literacy Classes
One of the highlights of the last legislative session, I thought, was the Republican opposition to the Democrats’ Bible Literacy bill.
The Republicans were filibustering the Bible bill. On a Tuesday afternoon in early February, Republican legislators in Alabama took to the crimson-carpeted floor of the state house to oppose legislation that would authorize an elective course on the Bible in public high schools. The recommended curriculum for the course had been vouched for by Christian Right all-stars like Chuck Colson and Ted Haggard, but so far as Republicans were concerned, there was only one pertinent piece of information about the bill: It was sponsored by two Democrats. And now Republicans were prepared to do everything in their procedural power to stop it, even if that meant lining up to explain why they could not—could not!—stand for this attempt to bring a class about the Bible into public schools.
Of course, in addition to protecting their monopoly on religion, the reason they opposed it was that the bill required what appears to be a fair minded and religiously neutral text.
On the same day that Alabama Republicans launched their filibuster of the Bible literacy bill, state GOP chairwoman Twinkle Cavanaugh published an op-ed that charged the Bible curriculum was written by “ultra-liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council for Islamic Education, and the People for the American Way.”
The typical Twinkle response, but with a twist: It must be really bad, because it isn’t just liberals, but ULTRA liberals. Also typically, Twinkle misstated the facts. Here is the truth.
While the Bible Literacy Project has received much acclaim from a wide range of faith leaders, scholars, and the media, it has NOT been endorsed by the ACLU or similar groups. These inaccurate claims have been spread by competitors in attempts to label the BLP as liberal, when in fact, the Bible Literacy Project has wide support across the board, including national evangelical leaders such as Chuck Colson, Vonette Bright, Joe Stowell, and Ted Haggard; respected scholars from Wheaton, Westmont, and Gordon Colleges; and Peter Lillback of Westminster Seminary.
In addition to the endorsement of the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the textbook–reviewed by 41 scholars from a variety of backgrounds–has the endorsement of the general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, the chair of the Catholic Biblical Association, and Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar of The First Amendment Center.
We have built a product that will make every child in America feel respected-whether devout or skeptic. It presents the content and narrative of the Bible in a straightforward fashion and preserves the ability of the home and house of worship to teach their perspective.
Another reason for the opposition was that the individual districts ought to be free to make their own choices about any Bible curriculum. In that regard, read this new study about how leaving it to the districts worked in Texas. From the summary:
Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in teaching Bible courses in public schools, especially in Texas. If presented within guidelines established by the courts to protect religious freedom, such courses can be an excellent and desirable way to help students understand the unique importance of the Bible in history and literature. As this new report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund shows, however, teaching the Bible in Texas public schools is currently fraught with problems. Reading, Writing and Religion: Teaching the Bible in Texas Public Schools reveals that, with a few notable exceptions, the public school courses currently taught in Texas often fail to meet minimal academic standards for teacher qualifications, curriculum, and academic rigor; promote one faith perspective over all others; and push an ideological agenda that is hostile to religious freedom, science and public education itself.
I’ve said in previous posts that I think academic Bible literacy courses are a good idea. Though I am sure that the Democrats’ bill was introduced largely to make the Republicans look stupid – which it did – the bad motives don’t make it a bad bill. Hopefully next time both parties can seriously consider it.