The Bible has been finding greater favor from schools within the past few weeks as increased media attention has prompted institutions from all across the nation to consider teaching it within their public curriculum.
What was previously looked at as being a large violation of “separation of church and state” is now being seen by many state institutions as something of literary merit, and schools are beginning to jump on board as they see discussion of the all-time best seller becoming less controversial.
"We're not going to preach the Bible, we're going to teach the Bible and how it affects all of our writings, documents and the formation of our government," explained Texas Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), according to The Associated Press. "We're taking it as a document that has historical value. It's the most widely distributed book in the world."
Since Time magazine ran a cover story by senior religion writer David Van Biema, titled “The Case for Teaching the Bible,” discussion of the subject has rapidly grown, and schools have begun catching the wave of Bible literature classes.
Texas has been the largest example as of late. Last week, The House Public Education Committee gathered together to consider a bill sponsored by Chisum that would require nearly all of the state’s public schools to offer a Bible literacy course. The class would be an elective and would treat the Bible as a textbook.
"It's a very appropriate course, an elective course,” said Dr. Ryder Warren, superintendent of Marble Falls ISD, about 50 miles northeast of Austin, in NBC’s KXAN. “If the kids choose to do this, it would be a very good elective course to have in our high school because of the beliefs that pervade the community."
Another factor that has increased the discussion is the recent availability of materials to teach the subject.
The Bible Literacy Project has been pushing their textbook, The Bible and Its Influence - written by Cullen Schippe, former vice president at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and Chuck Stetson, Founder and Chairman of the Bible Literacy Project – and many schools have already signed onto its curriculum.
Besides Texas, a large majority of the southern states have had cities that are largely in favor of a Bible course.
"The Bible has informed so much of who we are as Americans," said John Brenke, a member of the Board of Education in Ocean Springs, Miss., according to the Mississippi Press. "The founding fathers knew [the Bible]. When you listen to the presidential inaugural, you hear it. A well educated person ought to know what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. They may not agree with it, but they ought to know it."
Northern states have been warming up to the idea as well after seeing the recent interest around the nation.
“I think we’re on the cutting edge with this in the area,” expressed Tom Fleming, principal of Richland Senior High School in Richland Township, Pa., according to the Tribune-Democrat. “It’s groundbreaking territory for us, and there certainly is a movement to get this more readily available.”
Richland Senior High School would be the first to teach the Bible Literacy Project’s version of the elective course in Pennsylvania, according to the Tribune-Democrat.
With the increased interest, schools have seen the need to be careful about the method in which the Bible is taught and to keep Bible classes as purely literary and historical. There can be no religious sway.
"[When] what they're doing can be argued as an endorsement of a specific religion, then that would violate the doctrine of the separation of church and state," explained attorney Kurt Corley in KXAN.
The total number of schools around the nation adopting the new course is still relatively small compared to the overall percentage of public institutions. Advocates for the program are optimistic about its potential growth.
“We are fairly new,” said Sheila Weber, the Bible Literacy Project’s communications vice president, in the Tribune-Democrat. “This school year was really the first year we’ve had our textbook out. And we are seeing a huge increase for next year.”