Biblical Class Laws Do Much Less Than You Hope or Fear

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The Bible could return to public schools in West Virginia.

The state House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday who would be allow county school boards to offer elective social studies courses in the Old Testament, New Testament, or both, provided the content is approved by the state Department of Education. A version of the legislation in the State Senate speaks more generally of course, courses on “sacred texts or comparative world religions”, an amendment rejected by the lower house, but if this difference can be resolved, it seems likely that the measure will be signed into law by Governor Jim Justice (R).

It is certainly not as bad as supporters and critics assume. The bill would do far less than either hopes or fears.

We know this because West Virginia is not the first state to consider or pass legislation like this in recent years. Georgia passed a similar bill in 2019, a curious thing given that Bible literacy electives have already been approved by the state legislature. in 2006while the law was legitimately innovative and enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

Georgia’s unnecessary reauthorization of classes is telling in two ways. First, as Christianity today reported last fallsame in a state where non-Christian religions are half represented national rate and Christian affiliation is about 10% higher than the national average, very few school boards choose to teach the Bible. “Statistics from the Georgia Department of Education show that in the 2018-2019 school year, 163 of the state’s 181 school districts did not offer Bible classes,” said the CT report notes. “Most schools prioritize core curriculum assessed on state tests and don’t have the staff—or high enough levels of student interest—to teach Bible electives.”

Chuck Stetson of the Bible Literacy Project, which lobbied for the 2006 bill, said Christianity today his organization’s curriculum was purchased by only 10% of school districts in the state, and most classes established after the original law were dropped from the list of electives in all three semesters, often due low student engagement. In 2019, just 740 out of half a million Georgian high school students had attended a Bible literacy course in a public school.

The other interesting thing about Georgia’s second law was its inaccurate celebration and condemnation as a great political victory for the religious right. “Many states are introducing Bible literacy classes, giving students the opportunity to study the Bible. Starting to turn around? Great!” President Trump tweeted in January of last year, apparently after having watched a slice on fox and friends.

Trump’s message kicked off the usual bickering over religion in public schools, just as West Virginia’s proposal did on a smaller scale. Opponents argue that students of other faiths will feel excluded or demonized by their peers if they decide not to take these courses; that courses will violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution if teachers present themselves from a devotional perspective; and that the the curriculum will run counter to the beliefs of many practicing Christians if it adopts the scholarly approach necessary for successful legal gathering.

But again, watching how it played out elsewhere is instructive. “People think I’m ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God,’ but that’s not the approach,” said Matthew Alligood, who teaches Bible literacy at a high school near Savannah. Christianity today. “It’s like a literature course: what is [Jesus] say in the text?” The few Bible electives in Georgia public schools cover topics such as understanding how the chapter and verse organization system works, how the Bible was put together, and how knowledge of his stories can help students better interpret allusion-laden literature like Herman. Moby-Dick or Zora Neale Hurston Their eyes looked at God.

When the West Virginia Legislature first considered a Bible Choices Act two years ago, Education Department General Counsel Heather Hutchens said the classes were already allowed on condition that they are “voluntary and from a historical point of view only”. As the current bill continues to require Ministry of Education review as well as instructions from a position of “religious neutrality”, its passage or failure therefore means little in practice – much like Georgia’s 2019 law. before her.

But even if these proposals did change curricula, the reality they would produce is pretty mundane. The case for basic biblical knowledge as an asset in literary and historical analysis is irrefutable: knowing a little about the Bible will truly make much of the world’s history and literature much more intelligible to students.

It’s possible to argue that the literature curriculum should evolve, but that’s a different conversation. The denial of the influence of the Bible on the writings and historical events of Western and Western-colonized parts of the world (i.e. almost the whole world) is simply not believable. (Linguists say the King James Translation of the Bible shaped the English language more than any other work.) As Christianity declines in the United States, religious affiliations shrink and diversify, and fewer and fewer students have cultural familiarity with the Bible, the scientific value of study will only go up.

And in our litigious society, the looming threat of legal challenge – certain to be defended voluntarily by the ACLU—and equally certain of success if a school district dares to make Bible classes mandatory or if a teacher makes them blatantly devotional—will ensure that the few classes that appear to be strictly elective and academic.

Yes thisthis is what produces a fifth Great Awakeningit will clearly be an act of God.

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