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 Republicans—who control both houses of the Georgia legislature—required 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, ...

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