Religion in the public schools, libraries, etc.
RELIGIOUS TEACHING IN SCHOOLS
The situation in Florida:
The Florida legislature passed a law in 1996 which permitted Bible
history classes to be taught in state public schools. In 1997, the school board of Lee County, FL decided to create a "Bible
History" unit. They appointed a Bible Curriculum Committee
and mandated them to develop curricula for two new courses: "Bible
History: Old Testament" and "Bible History: New
Testament." From the beginning, the committee was divided.
Conservative members wanted to teach the type of Christian Bible course that is
commonly seen in their Sunday schools - to teach conservative religious beliefs as truth. Religious liberals, and others, wanted
to teach an objective course - information about religion. Against the recommendations of its lawyers,
the school district adopted the program recommended by the conservative
majority on its committee. This allegedly involved the adoption of two courses by the National Council on Bible
Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS): an Old Testament course
with some adaptations, and the New Testament course exactly as produced by
the NCBCPS. 1
The law firm of Steel, Hector & Davis, the People For the American Way Foundation
(PFAWF) and the Florida American Civil Liberties Union sued the school
district in federal court on behalf of some parents and citizens who
objected to the curricula. The court issued an injunction which prohibited
the teaching of the New Testament course, and ordered the strict
monitoring of the Old Testament course. The school board decided to drop
the NCBCPS-based curricula. They substituted a "neutral, academic
curriculum that does not present the Bible as fact or from a sectarian
perspective." The course is now taught in two sections, both based on
a book, "An introduction to the Bible." 2
The People For the American Way then studied the "Bible History" courses
that 14 other Florida school districts taught
from the 1996-7 to the 1998-9 school years. They concluded that all 14
districts were violating the Constitution. Most courses:
||Used the term "Old Testament", a uniquely Christian term,
rather than the generic term "Hebrew Scriptures"
generally used by scholars.
||Referred to the events in the Garden of Eden as "The Fall of
Man" -- a Christian concept not recognized by many other faith groups --
including some which base their beliefs on the Hebrew Scriptures. Some
believe that Genesis teaches the rise of humanity,
not its fall.
||The serpent in Genesis was
referred to as "Satan;" that is a conservative Christian
interpretation, not shared by other faith groups.
||Interpreted much of the Hebrew Scriptures as prophecy concerning the
future arrival of Jesus Christ. This again is a uniquely Christian
concept. In one school district, the students were asked "What
eight aspects of Christ's life are prophesied in Isaiah?"
||Teach only one arrangement of the Ten
Commandments; the students are not informed about the two other
formats used by Christians and Jews.
||Ignore the seven additional books included in those versions of the Bible which are used by Roman Catholics and some
Anglicans. These books are not considered part of the official canon
by most Protestant denominations and are frequently referred to as the
Apocrypha or as Intertestament Writings.
||Restrict the course to the King James Version. The New
American Bible, used by Roman Catholics, and the New World
Translation, used by Jehovah's Witnesses, were not included.
||Used only the Bible and secondary resources like Fundamentalist
Christian handbooks as texts. No non-biblical sources of
Middle-Eastern history were used. No books reflecting a liberal
interpretation of the Bible were included.
Perhaps the most serious concerns with the courses were:
||That only a single, typically conservative Protestant,
interpretation of the Bible was taught. The students were not informed
that there is a wide range of beliefs by
different faith groups, depending largely upon their initial assumptions
about the nature of the Bible itself.
||That the Bible was taught as actual history: the
creation story, the
flood, the Tower of Babel, the existence of Jesus since the beginning of time, the miracles
attributed to Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, etc. were all
as real, historical events. There is a wide diversity of belief about
these events. They cannot be verified and believers must be accepted them on faith.
"Teaching this biblical content as true in a public school
improperly crosses the line of neutrality and objectivity by endorsing
religion and inculcating students in religions beliefs."
||Students are taught, in the Ten Commandments, that only God is to be
worshiped and that one must rest on the weekly Sabbath, Saturday. They are
taught that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus said that the
the father of the Jews, that "eight aspects of Christ's life
are prophesied in Isaiah." The Bible is referred to as "our
Bible"; God is described as "our Lord." 3
The courses may well be ideal as a conservative Protestant Sunday school
curriculum. However, they would fail miserably in a Jehovah's Witness,
Mormon, Roman Catholic,
Unitarian Universalist or
church school. Christianity is actually being taught as truth to the students
- a specific wing of Christianity at that. As one court stated: "...to
inculcate students...into the beliefs and moral code of fundamentalist
Christianity [is] an admirable goal perhaps for some private citizens or
for a private religious school, but a forbidden one for the government."
The PFAWF Florida Director urged the Florida
Department of Education to remove the two courses "Bible History: Old Testament" and "Bible History: New Testament" in their present
from the state-approved course list.
The PFAWF report 2 asks all of the Florida school districts
involved to stop their current courses, and thus avoid being sued in court. The
PFAWF also sent letters to the Superintendents of each of the 14 school districts,
accompanied with copies of the report.
Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher has expressed concern about these
courses. The department is gathering information about the courses,
and about the way that they're taught. 5
The National Council on Bible
Curriculum in Public Schools:
The NCBCPS promotes Bible study in the U.S. public schools. They make a number of points in their web site:
||They describe the main purpose of the Council is to make an elective course in
Bible study available across the U.S. The course would "study
the Bible as a foundation document of society." The NCBCPS
president, Elizabeth Ridenour, believes that if more students study
the Bible then "we will be motivated to impact our culture, to
deal with the moral crises in our society and reclaim our families and
||"Historians say that religion has been the major motivating
force in all of human history."
||They describe the course objective is to help the student learn about the
literary forms of the Bible, some Biblical individuals and symbols
often referred to in the fine arts, the impact that the Bible has had
on American society, the world views of America's founding fathers,
the Middle East, and the importance of religion.
||The courts do not require an absolute separation between church
and state. The U.S. Constitution "mandates accommodation, not
merely tolerance of all religions and forbids hostility toward any."
||Students' right of religious freedom are violated when the Bible is
removed from the public schools.
||Reference texts which do not mention religion give a warped view of
||They offer a table of course contents on their web site. No detailed
list of topics or a description of the approach that they take to
teaching the Bible is posted.
||The textbook for the course is the King James Version of the Bible.
A number of supplemental books are also recommended for the course.
These include a number of Bible translations, and some additional
books which are almost all from Zondervan Publishing House, a
Christian publisher concentrating on fundamentalist and other evangelical
beliefs. 6 One book attempts to harmonize
conflicts among the various gospel descriptions of Jesus' statements and actions. Another attempts to
prove the inerrancy of the Bible. Another gives a chronological chart
of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, showing dates promoted by
conservative Christian theologians but rejected by Jewish and liberal
Christian theologians. No books representing the biblical beliefs of Abrahamic religions other
than Christianity are included. (i.e. no books written from a Jewish,
Muslim or Baha'i perspective). No texts representing a mainline or
liberal interpretation of the Bible are included.
||They recommend a number of video tapes: "Ben Hur",
"Charlton Heston presents the Bible," and "The
Visual Bible" The latter portrays the books of Matthew and
Acts, word-for-word from the conservative Christian NIV translation of
||They recommend a poster "Comparison of Life Origins"
which compares evolution with creation science. It is prepared by a
creation science group: Creation Evidences Museum from Glen
According to American Atheists, "Statements put out by the NCBCPS
claim that between 45 and 300 school districts have adopted its program."
However, the NCBCPS allegedly refuses to give specific data. With some
justification, they seem to fear that the school districts will come under legal
The People for the American Way (PFAW) have expressed some concerns about the NCBCPS:
||Their manual describes "the separation of church and state as a
||They refuse to tell the public how many school districts have adopted
||They refuse to make their curriculum available to scholars and the media
||The NCBPCS board of directors and advisory board appears to be made up
In a letter to the Fort Smith, AK, public schools, the PFAW wrote:
"The NCBCPS curriculum ... presents the Bible not 'objectively' but from
a Christian perspective (and, within Christianity, a Protestant
perspective). And as the proposed course name confirms, it also presents the
Bible 'as history,' as a record of the past. Indeed, according to a
proponent of the adoption of this curriculum, the course would 'look at the
Bible as a historical . . . record.' See 'Board Weighs Request to Teach
Bible,' Times Record (Oct. 29, 2002). While the Bible is a document that
exists in history, and many believe it to be true as a matter of their
religious faith, it is, as the federal courts have recognized, first and
foremost a book of religious proclamation and teachings. As such, and as the
courts have held, it cannot be taught in a public school as though it were a
history text. See, e.g., Gibson v. Lee County School Board, 1 F. Supp. 2d
1426 (M.D. Fla. 1998); Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, 933 F.
Supp. 582 (N.D. Miss. 1996). Indeed, much of the content of the Bible, such
as divine creation, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus, is simply
incapable of historical verification, and can only be accepted as a matter
of religious faith and religious belief. Herdahl, 933 F. Supp. at 596.
Nonetheless, the NCBCPS curriculum plainly presents the content of the Bible
to students as a record of the past. 7
The author of this essay Emailed an information request to the NCBCPS but did not receive a
The author is frankly surprised by the courses offered by the
NCBPCS. They appear to be clearly unconstitutional, because they teach religion
(rather than teach about religion). Also, they do it only from a conservative
Protestant Christian point of view. School boards which adopt their courses are
laying themselves open to law suits that can easily run into the hundreds of
thousands of dollars. They also risk the anger of liberal Christians and
non-Christian parents and students in their communities.
National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has a web
site at: http://www.bibleinschools.org/ Phone:
(336) 272-3799; Email [email protected];
Postal address P.O. Box 9743, Greensboro, NC, 27429.
James R. Beasley, et al., "An introduction to the Bible."
Abingdon Press, (1991). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
"The good book taught wrong: 'Bible History' classes in Florida's
public schools," at: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/liberty/florida-bible.pdf This
is an Acrobat PDF file. You can obtain a free software to read these files
Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, 933 F. Supp. 582, 596
[N.D. Miss. 1996). Quoting Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. 133,149 (E.D.
Robert Sanchez, "State investigating Bible history courses in 14
districts," Miami Herald, 2000-JAN-31, at: http://www.herald.com/
- Zondervan's Publishing House's web site is at: http://www.zondervan.com/
"Proposed NCBCPS Bible Course," People for the American Way,
Copyright © 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2000-JAN-16
Latest update: 2006-OCT-11
Author: B.A. Robinson