Public-school Bible study is good ó if itís done right
The Bible belongs in all schools, including public ones — but as an object of academic study, not of devotion.
Religion and the Bible are among the most powerful influences shaping society. Students need to know about them. Indeed, any attempt to understand civilization without them has holes in it.
So we welcome the publication of a high school textbook called "The Bible and Its Influence." It's a product of the Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va., whose philosophy is to respect all religions and not take sides on controversies as to what the Bible says or means. When those controversies are deemed noteworthy, the textbook describes them objectively.
Of course, one person's objectivity is another's biased reporting. So scholars of many persuasions were asked to review multiple drafts of the book. The finished product is endorsed by a remarkable variety of both conservative and liberal Christian and Jewish leaders and experts, as well as at least one agnostic scholar.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never said God couldn't be mentioned in school. What it has said repeatedly is that government-sponsored schools must not take sides on matters of religion. That's what the First Amendment means when it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."
The new textbook appears to be an honest and diligent effort to pass that test, rather than what we have seen many times in recent years: an attempt to sneak religious doctrine into the schools.
With this book, the Bible Literacy Project demonstrates that giving religion its proper place in the schools can be done, but it's hard work — it requires time, scholarship and money. The effort is worthwhile because religion is important.