Monday, October 4, 2010

The Bible and Religion in School – 3 Years Later

A little over three and a half years ago on this blog, a firestorm of sorts erupted when I called the Fort Smith School Board to task for blatantly ignoring the will of the citizens of Fort Smith by voting down the inclusion of a course on Bible as an elective on the high school level. Over 200 people attended the monthly School Board meeting in February of 2007 to voice support for the elective class. To date, nothing has happened to provide such a course for our students in Fort Smith even though one board member that night “promised” to pursuer the issue. I said then that not only is an elective Bible class appropriate for our students BUT that our curriculum ought to also include a course on comparative religions. I made the point that we live in a “religious” world. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, students in our public schools graduate high school each year and step into a multi-religious world of which they are woefully uneducated and thus unprepared.

Last week the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the results of a U.S. religious literacy survey they conducted on 3,412 adults. Thirty-two questions were asked about the Bible and world religions. The survey revealed that we are a very religiously illiterate nation. The average score on the survey was a 50%. Using the public school grading scale, that is an F.

We are just now beginning to reap the results of a generation who knows little to nothing about the religions of the world. “What does it matter?” one may say. Well, when you consider that radical Muslims are willing to kill Americans in the name of their religion, when Israel is in continual conflict with its neighbors because of religion, when more and more students of other religions live in our neighborhoods and attend our schools, it seems to only make sense that there would be great benefit from learning about what motivates and informs the various religions of the world…no, our community.

We seem to be operating under a false belief that the Constitution prohibits Bible elective classes or comparative religion classes. This notion, I believe, lends itself to a false fear of legal reprisal. What happens if the school system gets sued? Three and a half years ago when the Fort Smith School Board voted down the Bible elective course, fear of a lawsuit, was the number one reason given by the school board’s attorney and Fort Smith’s superintendent (this even though the attorneys for the particular Bible curriculum being proposed had promised to defend pro bono any school system sued because of its curriculum).

By way of education, let me quote the words of the Supreme Court in the infamous Abington v. Schempp case of 1963 that “eliminated” Bible reading from our public schools.

United States Supreme Court - 1963

It might be well said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literacy and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.

School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203,225 (1963)

Let’s insist on the best education for our kids. An education that prepares them for the real world where religions abound and knowledge of such will only help them succeed.

For another opinion regarding teaching religion in school, read Stephen Prothero’s column in USAToday.

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