Bible textbook remains on list after discussion
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY — A Bible literacy text once at the center of a legislative controversy will remain on the list of approved books for Alabama schools, the State Board of Education decided Thursday.
The textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence," was one of more than 2,500 books the board approved in September upon recommendation of the state textbook committee.
Approval allows local school systems to purchase the books with state funds.
Most board members and education Superintendent Joe Morton said they did not realize the book was on the list until its publisher, Bible Literacy Project, issued a press release last week.
The press release said Alabama was the first state to adopt the text for statewide use, which some board members say is a little misleading.
Some board members said they were blindsided because they didn't know the book was on the list. Most said their real objection was to the book's publisher using Alabama's vote to market the book and to press coverage that incorrectly portrayed the board's role in the process.
"Only in Alabama would we have such a to-do about nothing," said Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa. Ray, whose district includes Lawrence County, said she had no problem with the book. But she said she wished the state's textbook selection process and the board's role in that process had been better explained.
"It is still up to the local system to make the choice" to use the book, Ray said.
Not possible to review all books
Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, said it's not possible for the board to review so many textbooks, nor should it be.
"I do not view that as my role as a board member," she said. She said Huntsville has had courses on the Bible as literature for at least five years. Teachers and students have used "The Bible and Its Influence" as a resource in the elective courses without problems, she said.
At least one Baldwin County school also has used the textbook.
Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, said she wants to go on record with the publisher that this type of study is not new to Alabama. "My biggest concern was the company's misrepresentation about the board's role," she said.
Morton will try to clarify the board's role in the textbook selection process and the state's longstanding policy on the role the Bible can play in elective courses in state schools. Morton said he has contacted Time magazine to request an opportunity to clarify the issue. He will also contact the book publisher.
The education department will also offer opportunities for other publishers to have their books considered for such courses.
"The Bible and Its Influence" first gained attention in 2006 when Democrats in the Legislature introduced a bill to approve the book for use in elective Bible as literature courses in high schools.
Republicans objected to some language in the book, and said Democrats were trying to make them vote "against God" during an election year. The bill failed after a two-hour filibuster.
Even before the textbook committee put the text on the approved list, it was possible to use the book as long as state funds were not involved.
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