Thursday, December 01, 2005

Public School Bible Study?

Could this possibly survive a challenge in the courts?
School boards in Alabama could offer courses in Bible literacy as an elective in public high schools if a bill promoted by two Democratic state legislators Thursday becomes law.

House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, has prefiled a bill that would authorize public school systems to offer the elective in grades 9-12. The course will be based on the textbook The Bible and Its Influence, published in September by the Bible Literacy Project, a Fairfax, Va.-based nonprofit.

"It would be hard to dispute the most influential book known to man is the Bible," Guin said at a news conference with House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia.

The bill can be considered in the regular session, beginning Jan. 10.

Supporters of the bill say the course would not be a devotional study of the Bible, but an academic discussion of how it has influenced literature, art, history, music and Western civilization. The Bible Literacy Project says having a firm, basic knowledge of the Bible gives students an advantage, especially in Advanced Placement courses.

Critics, including the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, say it's another attempt by Christians to preach in classrooms.

Joseph Conn, a spokesman for the Washington group, said the Bible is already discussed as needed when allusions to it come up in art, literature and other works.

"The study of the Bible and religions should be dealt with as they come up in class," he said. "To have a separate class that's tilted to one religious faith or another raises issues."

Larry Darby, former president of the Montgomery-based Atheist Law Center and candidate for attorney general, agreed, saying Biblical influences on various works already are addressed by teachers.

But Hammett said the Bible Literacy Project has worked hard to develop a program that is constitutionally sound - one that won't attract lawsuits.

"The are those who believe we can't teach the Bible in public schools today - but that's not the case," Hammett said.

Guin referred to the Rev. Martin Luther King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" which is often read by Alabama 11th-graders when they study the civil rights movement. In the letter, which he wrote after being jailed for civil disobedience during a protest, King refers to the extremism of the prophet Amos.

The Literacy Project's book also gives background to everyday words and phrases rooted in the Bible - including "apple of my eye," "an eye for an eye" and "a thorn in my side" - and is filled with descriptions of great works based on the text, including Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, John Milton's "Paradise Lost" and Johann Sebastian Bach's "Magnificat."

Guin said the meanings of the works would be lost, "if you don't have a basic understanding of the Bible."
Read more about the proposed text, The Bible and Its Influence, right here.

Should this bill be passed and become law, I think that it will immediately be challenged in the courts and thrown out tout suit. On the other hand, federal courts seem to doing the most unpredictable things nowadays.
See the latest edition of The Carnival Of Education right here and our latest posts over there.