Georgia recently became the first state to call for elective public high-school courses about the Bible. The new bill, passed overwhelmingly in late March and signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in April, allows for the state school board to develop a curriculum by February 2007.
State Sen. Doug Stoner, a Democrat, said, "Students need to know the Bible to understand Western civilization and Western literature."
Democrats had proposed using The Bible and Its Influence as the course's textbook. But Republicanswho control both houses of the Georgia legislaturerequired that the Bible itself be used. Local school districts, teachers, and even students will decide what version of the Bible to use as a textbook.
The Georgia tussle reflects wrestling by evangelicals nationwide over the reliability of The Bible and Its Influence. Released last September by the Bible Literacy Project, The Bible and Its Influence is designed to meet constitutional standards for public school use as an elective in high-school English or social studies programs. The National Association of Evangelicals and leaders such as Charles Colson, Joseph Stowell, and Os Guinness support the text.
The Bible and Its Influence "is not meant to be a substitute for the teachings of the church," Colson said, "but rather a means of furthering the foundational knowledge of students."
But in a letter to an Alabama legislator, whose state is considering similar proposals, John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio said the text is a "masterful work of deception, distortion, and outright falsehoods." D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries has also criticized the book.
When the Republican leader in Georgia's Senate prepared his party's version of the bill, which passed, he consulted with Elizabeth Ridenour, president of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. Ridenour said the Bible should be used as the main textbook, so that it is taught from a position of neutrality.
Randy Brinson, head of Alabama-based Redeem the Vote, recommended The Bible and Its Influence to legislators in Alabama and Georgia. Tennessee and Missouri are also considering teaching the Bible in public schools. Brinson welcomes the new Georgia law, but laments that some are "looking for wedges in an area where common ground should be easy to find."
In 1963, the Supreme Court prohibited public-school teachers from telling students what to believe about the Bible. However, the court allowed for academic study of the Bible. The new Georgia law requires that courses be taught "in an objective and non-devotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students." But the use of the Bible itself as a textbook takes the law to untested ground.
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News elsewhere includes:
Comparative religion class should suit all | As Georgia stands poised to become the first state in the nation to sanction Bible study in its public schools, there are no doubt many secular Georgians and Americans who will be raising their voices in objection. (Paul Waldman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 8)
Public schools' plans to teach Bible stokes controversy | Text draws fire from conservatives as debate on ensuring objective course heats up. (Associated Press, May 12)
Perdue signs Bible, Ten Commandments bills | Students in Georgia's public schools could begin to take Bible classes as soon as next year, under legislation Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law on Thursday. (Associated Press, April 20)
High school class on Bible stays the course | In its 66th year, the nonreligious study has yet to be challenged in Big Spring (Houston Chronicle, May 15)
Other Christianity Today articles on the Bible and religion in public schools include:
The Beginning of Education | The new Bible Literacy Project curriculum is impressiveas far as it is able to go. (Oct. 7, 2005)
Muslim Class Prayer | Parents allege kids 'forced' to simulate Islam. (Sept. 16, 2004)
Bring on the Pentagrams | Schools wrestle with religious freedom in the classroom. (April 10, 2002)
Back to the Bible | More public schools experiment with Bible-as-literature curriculum. (Sept. 4, 2000)
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