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May 22, 2006

Bible Brawl: Group Disses a Stellar Textbook as Georgia Adopts High School Classes on the Bible

In April, Georgia became the first state to enact legislation that calls for public high school courses about the Bible. The state school board is to develop the curriculum by February 2007, and local school districts, teachers, and even students will decide what version of the Bible to use as a textbook. My Christianity Today article on Georgia’s move is now posted at Christianity Today.

Here’s a bit more.

In Georgia, where it is sometimes difficult to distinguish party affiliation, four Democratic state senators spurred the Bible curriculum legislation. Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta), Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), and others proposed the concept behind Senate Bill 79, which was passed overwhelming in late March and signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on April 20. Republicans—who now control both houses of the Georgia legislature—put their mark on the law by requiring that the Bible be used as the textbook, rather than the text The Bible and Its Influence, which was earmarked for use in the Democratic version of the bill.

The Georgia tussle is an extension of wrestling by national evangelicals over the reliability of The Bible and Its Influence for teaching the Bible in the public schools. Released last September by the Bible Literacy Project, The Bible and Its Influence is a textbook to be used with a Bible of the student’s choice. It is designed to meet constitutional standards for public school use as an elective in English or Social Studies programs for 9th to 12th grades. The National Association of Evangelicals and leaders such as Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, Joseph Stowell of Moody Bible Institute, and Os Guinness of The Trinity Forum support the text.

I have the textbook. It’s excellent. I want to take a course using this book to explore the Bible as literature and historical record. Although The Bible and Its Influence was sadly dropped from the Georgia legislation, there is still a chance the state school board will use it. That would go against the legislation, which requires that the Bible itself be used—because the text is designed to be used with the Bible. Not instead of the Bible, which was some of the misinformation used in the campaign against it in Georgia and Alabama.

D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge and John Hagee of Cornerstone Church are among those campaigning against it, and they are looking silly doing it. They are lonely voices and they’re hitting a sour, discordant note at that. Hagee does a lot of odd things, but I’m surprised by Kennedy—who may have received bad information from someone.

Colson said: “[The Bible and Its Influence] is not meant to be a substitute for the teachings of the church, but rather a means of furthering the foundational knowledge of students.”

Alabama, Tennessee, and Missouri are also considering legislation this session to teach courses about the Bible in public schools. Randy Brinson, head of Alabama-based Redeem the Vote, suggested the Bible curriculum laws to legislators in Alabama and Georgia and recommended The Bible and Its Influence as a textbook that would withstand legal challenges.

“As we’ve worked to register Christian young people to vote, we’ve polled them about their concerns,” Brinson explained. “Religious liberty and education are at the top of the list, which prompted us to look at ways to bring the study of the Bible into public schools.”

But when Tommie Williams, the Republican majority leader in the Georgia senate, prepared the Republican version of the legislation, he consulted with Elizabeth Ridenour, president of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.

Ridenour says believes that it is important that the Bible be used as the main textbook in public schools so it is taught from a position of neutrality. She is opposed to the use of The Bible and Its Influence and may have done more to keep it out of the Georgia legislation than anyone is saying. It is revealing that the legislation opens the possibility of the state using the curriculum that her organization offers.

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools is featuring the strongly worded condemnation by Kennedy and Hagee on its Website. There seems to be some political games being played by Ridenour, and she clearly has a conflict of interest.

While welcoming a new law that will allow instruction on the Bible, Brinson calls the political jockeying tinged by evangelical in-fighting “looking for wedges in an area where common ground should be easy to find.”

In 1963, the Supreme Court prohibited the devotional use of the Bible in public school classrooms but ruled that academic study of the Bible is constitutional. The court said that teaching about the Bible is acceptable, but teaching what to believe is not.

The new Georgia law seeks to meet this standard, requiring 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. Georgia Senator Doug Stoner said he and his colleagues recommended use of The Bible and its Influence in the original legislation for this reason.

As to why there shouldn’t be similar courses on other religious works, such as the Koran, Stoner said: “In his works, Shakespeare has 1300 references to the Bible, not the Koran. Students need to know the Bible to understand western civilization and western literature.”

Posted by Jim at May 22, 2006 05:24 PM

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Perhaps they should be separate, but right now ... they aren't. Jim at Stones Cry Out folllows the public high school Biblical teaching legislation in Georgia.... [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2006 10:20 AM


I received a note from the Bible Literacy Project's vice president, communications, Sheila Weber, who adds:

"This story still misses the point that the Bible Literacy Project curriculum is still very much in the running to be chosen as the GA curriculum --no matter what the intention of the sponsor of the bill; and that we use two books in our course--a Bible of the student's choice and our new student textbook. The value of the student textbook is that is lets everyone know the objectivity with the class is actually being presented. Many, many schools will simply not allow a course on the Bible without a textbook. It gives tremendous security to school boards and administrators."

Posted by: Jim Jewell at May 23, 2006 11:27 AM