Call for Character Education and Prayer in the Schools
Makes an impassioned case for moral education and the place for voluntary prayer in schools in the United States. more...
In 1962 and 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court made rulings that removed prayer and Bible reading from public schools
But in the aftermath of the rulings, the nation endured one of the worst and longest sustained increases in juvenile crime in its history. Is there a connection?
BIBLE IN THE SCHOOL
by William Jeynes, Ph.D.
This website is dedicated to the effort to put the Bible as Literature in the public schools. This goal is both vastly beneficial and it is constitutional. It is true a series of 3 Supreme Court decisions in 1962-63, the teaching of the Bible was removed from the public schools as a required school exercise. Nevertheless, in those decisions the U.S. Supreme Court made it patent in their decisions that the teaching of the Bible in the public schools was both permissible and valuable as long as it was done in an objective way and as part of a secular curriculum. For example, in one of those 1962-63 U.S. Supreme Court decisions just referred to, Abington v Schempp (1963), the Court declared:
Nothing what 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 consistent with the First Amendment…
Therefore, it is clear that the teaching of the Bible as Literature as an elective is constitutionally permissible. Even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) acknowledges that the teaching of the Bible as literature is constitutional as long as it is presented objectively. Consequently, the Bible as Literature is being taught in approximately 495 different school districts in 43 states. In addition, nine states passed laws to allow the Bible as Literature to be taught statewide either as one year long course on the Bible as a whole or two one-year long courses on the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively. A tenth state (Florida) allows for Bible instruction within certain contexts.
Generally speaking the votes that have taken place in state legislatures on introducing the Bible as Literature in the public schools have been quite overwhelming. For example, among the most recent states to vote the Bible in the public schools was the state of Oklahoma. The vote in the state senate was 38-4 and 95-2 in the state house, favoring having the Bible as Literature taught in the public schools.
Districts all across the country (in 43 states) have passed decisions permitting instructors to teach the Bible as Literature in the public schools. The 7 states that do not yet have the Bible as Literature in the public schools are generally those states with the lowest populations in the country. Those districts that have adopted the Bible as Literature class have generally done so by large margins either at the school board level or via some other authoritative body.
We advocate that the Bible as Literature be taught in the public schools and believe it is wise to do so for the following reasons. First, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that the teaching of the Bible as literature and history is acceptable as long as it is “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education” (Abington v. Schempp ,1963). Second, it is hard to imagine that a person could be an educated individual unless one at least has a working knowledge of the Bible. Every year of recorded history, the Bible has been the most published book in the world. And if one is to be regarded as knowledgeable, the Bible is clearly one piece of literature with which a person needs to be familiar. A knowledge of the Bible will make one understand the history of all six inhabited continents and become much more cognizant with the meaning of truths expressed in western literature. Third, knowledge of the Bible will enhance one’s understanding of people of faith generally, including those of other religions.
THE U.S. SUPREME COURT HAS DECLARED THAT IT IS
ACCEPTABLE TO HAVE THE TEACHING OF THE
BIBLE AS LITERATURE AND HISTORY IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the teaching of the Bible as Literature and History in the public schools is indeed constitutional. Even the ACLU has acknowledged this fact, as states one by one have initiated statewide public school programs of the Bible as literature and/or history. In 1948 in McCollum v. Board of Education Justice Robert Jackson’s concurring opinion stated, “one can hardly respect the system of education that would leave the student wholly ignorant of the currents of religious thought that move the world society for…which he is being prepared.” Jackson warned that making faith off limits in the classroom would leave public education “in shreds.”
The reanalysis of these decisions sparked an effort to reintroduce the Bible back into the schools both for its historical value and as a tome of great literary import. If one dismisses the importance of knowing the Bible then one is marginalizing much of human history. In addition, one is also asserting that all of history is worthy to learn from except Bible history.
ONE CANNOT BE CONSIDERED EDUCATED UNLESS
ONE HAS A WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF THE BIBLE
Given that the Bible is the most published book in the world every single year, it is difficult to imagine a person one would regard as educated if he or she was devoid of Bible knowledge. Most of the lists of the world’s most published books do not even include the number of Bible copies any more, because it is so dominant. The overwhelming number of books are printed or distributed by one publishing house. The Bible is printed or distributed by thousands of publishing houses. In fact, in hundreds of different languages the Bible emerged as the first book ever to be published in that language and at least portions of it have been published in about 2,300 languages (n.a., 2010). A myriad of people believe that the Bible possesses an unfathomable degree of wisdom and guidance for life. About 65% of the world’s population regards the Bible as a holy book. Moreover, the world’s largest religion, Christianity, is a religion of over 2 billion people. There is no question that the Bible is the most influential book in human history, Jesus Christ is the most influential figure in human history, and biblical characters such as the Apostle Paul, Moses, Abraham, David, and Peter are among the most influential people in history.
If recent world trends are any indication, a record number of Bibles is likely to be published in the next decade. The numbers of Christians in the world continues to surge, largely because nations that years ago were not home to a large number of Christians now have prodigious amounts and myriad developing countries are increasingly welcoming Christianity into their countries. A lot of this openness is because historically, as Max Weber (1930) noted, the practice of devout Christianity and Christian principles are often followed by economic prosperity. Before the Korean War in 1950-1953, for example, there were relatively few Christians in Korea. But during the war pastors and missionaries received permission to distribute Bibles to all of the members of the South Korean soldiers. This action helped usher in one of the greatest Christian revivals on record. Consequently, within fifteen or twenty years Korea was home to the largest church in the world and within twenty-five years had half of the ten largest churches in the world. The largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church, now has about 900,000 members.
The place where Christianity is growing the fastest, China, is also the most populated nation in the world, which bodes well for both the demand for the Bible and its continued influence. According to a Gallup poll 100 million Christians now reside in China and that number is growing by 6-10 million a year. According to the BBC, even the Chinese government is building large churches and seminaries to accommodate this exponential growth. What this means is that Europe and then North America, which had been the centers of Christianity, are in the midst of ceding that position to East Asia.
Nations that had formally been in the Iron Curtain Eastern bloc under the oppressive atheistic Soviet regime have now embraced Christianity. Prayer and Bible reading are now regularly practiced in most nations of Eastern Europe, where many of them believe they enjoy more religious freedom than what currently exists in the United States.
It is becoming increasingly clear that a working knowledge of the Bible is also vital if one is to understand American and world history. Christians, led by the Puritans and Quakers, were the largest group to settle the New England and Mid-Atlantic states of the United States, which helped make the corridor from northern New England to Washington D.C. the nation’s Bible-belt from the early 1600s until 1920. The South really did not become the nation’s Bible-belt until after that time. George Washington’s own writings communicate the faith of a man who was strongly religious and credits God with miraculously saving his life several times over when a number of bullets put holes in his jacket, but did not affect his body. One cannot truly understand the fight against slavery, the Underground Railroad so faithfully supported by the Quakers, the effort to educate African Americans by the Puritans and Quakers, the women’s suffrage movement, and the Civil Rights movement unless one has a working knowledge of the Bible.
The influence of the Bible on world history is incalculable, even including recent world history. For example, 30% of people marching in the Chinese Tiananmen Square protests were Christians, almost all of which were relatively young. The collapse of the atheistic regime of the Soviet Communist bloc was immensely influenced by religion. This should not come as a surprise when one remembers that it was largely a religious movement supported by the Pope, a religious American president who believed God’s mission for him in life was to help bring down communism, and other religious leaders who were primarily responsible for bringing down Communism in Soviet satellite nations. Many consecutive nights of peaceful candlelight demonstrations by tens of thousands of East German Christians is ultimately what, on the final night of the marches, brought down the Berlin Wall. The fact that Gorbachev’s mother was Christian and Boris Yeltsin converted to Christianity, were major factors that ushered in the rise of Christianity in these nations.
Perhaps the key tipping point in the Soviet Union was when old line Communists captured and arrested Gorbachev in 1991 and the military marched on the Russian Parliament. In response, Boris Yeltsin called on the church to intervene and help him save the country from slipping back into despotism. Russian Christians streamed to the sight, handing out Bibles to the Communist military and providing food to Yeltsin and his fellow parliamentarians. The world watched on television, as numerous of the military men sat atop their tanks reading the Bible and refusing to follow through with orders to crush their countrymen. The hard-liners eventually ordered the withdrawal of the troops and released Gorbachev. The key moment in the battle against Communism in Russia had transpired.
Today, Kiev (now in the Ukraine), which had formerly been one of the largest cities in the Soviet Union, is home to a Pentecostal church of 25,000-30,000, which is sending out missionaries to other parts of the world.
For many centuries the authors of books from most of the world’s continents, Europe, North America, South America, and Australia, wrote with assumption that the reader would have a working knowledge of the Bible. As a result, many of the great books of the world have themes, titles, and references to the Bible. William Shakespeare alone cited the Bible about 1,300 times. Moreover, such books as Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, War and Peace, and a host of others cannot be fully comprehended unless one has a solid knowledge of the Bible. Authors such as Dickens, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Hemingway are also difficult to fathom without a thorough knowledge of the Bible. Perhaps the most convincing reality of all is that the Bible is not only easily the best selling book in the history of humanity, but it has been the world’s best selling book each and every year in recorded history and has remained so to this day.
The Bible, in particular, and religion, in general, have also profoundly impacted American- and world- history. In addition, recent research confirms that Bible literacy is strongly associated with higher academic outcomes and better social behavior among students. As David Van Biem (p. 42) argues in his Time magazine article entitled, “The Case for Teaching the Bible,” “The ‘new consensus’ for secular Bible study argues that knowledge of it is essential to be a full-fledged, well-rounded citizen.” Research indicates that Bible Literacy is associated with higher levels of academic achievement. Various studies have confirmed this trend without any published study demonstrating any trend to the contrary. Recent studies estimate that the gap in achievement between those instructed in Bible literacy and those that are not at about a full grade point (some of the relevant research articles are available at this site).
One of the most impressive indications that Bible literacy is associated with positive academic and behavioral outcomes is based on a meta-analysis that was undertaken that combined all of the studies that have been done on Bible literacy. This meta-analysis not only indicated there was a positive relationship between Bible literacy and student outcomes, but only found that there was not even one study that indicated otherwise.
KNOWLEDGE OF THE BIBLE WILL ENHANCE ONE’S UNDERSTANDING OF PEOPLE OF FAITH GENERALLY, INCLUDING THOSE OF OTHER RELIGIONS
This issue is particularly important because in recent years the United States has increasingly developed friction with nations who highly value religious faith. In a sense, this should come as no surprise because as the United States has become increasingly secularized, it is difficult for it to understand and relate to peoples who take their faith seriously. Naturally, this dearth of understanding is most ostensible in the case of the relationship between the United States and Islamic countries, but it is creating friction with a variety of other nations as well. For example, many nations where Christianity is strong such as South Korea, the Philippines, and various African nations find the immorality present in American television programs as offensive and inciting lust and violence. For this reason South Korea, for example, has made it a priority to develop its own storehouse of television programs to serve as a more edifying and pure alternative to Hollywood productions. Not surprisingly, these alternative programs have become quite popular in various nations around the globe.
Most Americans have little notion about some of the primary reasons why Osama bin Laden and other Islamic extremists are so angry at the West. If one were to ask most Americans if they have ever read one of Osama bin Laden’s speeches, that person would receive mostly blank stares. Clearly, I am not stating that one should agree with the essence of his speeches because they are obviously filled with racism, hate, and venom. Nevertheless, he also makes various and sundry points that reflect why so many Islamic people associate the United States with devilish practices. In addition to America’s insistence on protecting Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraq and also defending Israel, there are certain actions that people of Islam and extremists among them are especially grieved by. Those actions generally surround what they insist is an American obsession with sexuality whether it is using beautiful women to sell cars, pornography, homosexuality, and so forth. They also believe that Americans have little regard for what is holy. The aspect of this that most offended Osama bin Laden was when President Jimmy Carter ordered the construction of an underground military base in Saudi Arabia. To those of the Islamic faith, Saudi Arabia is holy ground and Carter’s action was a direct affront to those of the Islamic faith. Indeed, it may well be that most Americans think that the policies of the United States are justified and that Americans should defend Israel, because one can argue that the Jews are historically the world’s most mistreated people. The Egyptian enslavement of the Jews was indubitably one of the most brutal acts of slavery in world history and unfortunately the mistreatment of the Jews certainly did not end there.
Nevertheless, Americans make a major mistake if they believe that Islamic objections to the United States are merely a result of foreign policy. Rather, people of Islam view the United States as a post-Christian society that has largely forgotten about God and is instead drowning in a quagmire of godless behavior and attitudes.
Unfortunately, most Americans have little cognizance of this perspective that religious people hold of Americans, not only people of the Islamic faith, but those of other religions as well. Indeed, such tensions may arise with China, because China is experiencing what many are hailing as the most important Christian revival since that experienced in the Roman Empire in 312AD. According to a Gallup Poll, China has about as many Evangelical Christians as the United States and will soon, along with other East Asian nations, become the world center of Evangelical Christianity. Former Communist Party Premier Jiang Zimeng stunned many when he declared that he wanted his legacy to be that Christianity would become the national religion of China. And since that statement, China has experienced a growth in Christianity that is unparalleled in modern history. According to the BBC, the Chinese government is pouring in millions of dollars to build churches and seminaries to help ensure the growth of Christianity. If Americans do not develop a deeper understanding of the Bible, they will not be able to comprehend what is happening in China; and why the Chinese government views the growth of Christianity as one of the keys to becoming the world’s dominant super power. Many Chinese have observed, even as sociologist Max Weber noted, that where Christianity surges so does economic prosperity. If Americans are to understand China, Islamic countries, and other nations where faith is prominent and where many people view the Bible as a holy book, they should know the Bible.
The U.S. Supreme Court has clearly established that the teaching of the Bible as literature and history is permissible in the public schools. Given that the opponents of this practice have no legal footing and the U.S. Supreme Court has already approved of it as a course; a host of American leaders and academics have already lauded the merits of Bible instruction in the public schools. To allow public school students to continue in their blatant ignorance of the world’s most published book every year of recorded history is anti-intellectual and is to condone unnecessary misunderstanding of and friction with most of the world’s population. Such an insular mindset undermines America’s place of moral leadership as well as the promise of world peace.
n.a. (2010). biblica.com/bible/about/11.php. Retrieved on September 6, 2010.
Van Biem, David. (2007). “The Case for Teaching the Bible.” Time, 7 April, p. 42.
Weber, M. (1930). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott
Parsons. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.