Bible Teaching Should Be a Local, Not a State, Issue

I may be an atheist, but I believe the Bible to be the greatest work of literature in Western Civilization and, thus, the entire world. No person can style himself literate without at least a passing knowledge of its contents and the great themes it explores. Even secular humanists who reject the Bible as the word of God owe a vast debt to the ethical teachings expressed in the New Testament. Most humanist values can be traced directly back to the sayings of Jesus, whose values were rooted in the Judaic tradition of the Old Testament.

That said, SB 1502, submitted by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, is a terrible idea.

The bill would require local school boards to offer an elective, for-credit course on “the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament of the Bible of the New Testament of the Bible or a combined course on both.” The courses, the bill says, shall not favor or promote hostility toward any particular religion or religious perspective.

The courses shall “introduce students to biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy. ”

It would be a great idea to allow school districts to provide such courses. The Bible is a foundational document of Western Civilization, and its study informs religion, history, literature, and ethics. If a school board in a county such as Grayson, where I’m guessing the population is about 99% Christian, wishes to teach the Bible as a work of literature, I have no problem with that. I’m not one of those atheists who want to expunge anything with a religious taint from the public square.

However, I also believe that local school boards, reflecting local values and priorities, should be making decisions like this, not the General Assembly. Many localities in Virginia have large non-Christian populations — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and, most predominantly, secular humanists — who may actively reject Biblical teachings. Imposing a Biblical course requirement on such diverse school districts can be described only as oppressive.

Instead of mandating a Biblical course requirement, Carrico should be fighting for the freedom of school boards to offer an elective Bible course in their local districts should they desire. Carrico should know: What the General Assembly giveth, the General Assembly can taketh away: If the legislature can mandate the instruction of Bible studies, it can reverse the mandate. Indeed, it can mandate the statewide prohibition of teaching Bible courses in public schools.

Virginia is fast becoming a blue state. The political climate regarding culture war issues — guns, abortion, gay rights, religion in schools, etc. — is about to shift decisively against cultural conservatives. Instead of playing offense — pushing issues such as SB 1502 that are sure to trigger a response from liberals and leftists — Carrico and like-minded brethren should be preparing to play defense. They should be fighting to bolster decision-making autonomy for local governments and school boards, protecting the prerogatives of conservative rural counties like those in Carrico’s district to govern themselves with minimal interference from the intervenistas and social engineers in the metro areas.

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15 responses to “Bible Teaching Should Be a Local, Not a State, Issue

  1. If they allow “Bible” or Hebrew classes, throw in Quran, Arabic, Jewish ones. The major ones. I took classes in other religions, loved the education (not BS stuff, actual scholarly stuff).

    • I agree with V N.

      It’s a terrible idea to do this at ANY level of government.

      We do not want public schools turned into de-facto Christian schools.

      The folks on the religious right are a menace to society in my view.

  2. I agree with Jim, the Bible is a “Great Book” of Western Civilization. But teaching it as such is a high-school level undertaking, if not college, and for the sake of all the non Christians in the classroom it has to be taught from the point of view of great literature, not from the point of view of Received Truth. What Bible-thumping evangelical who happens to be a school teacher is going to maintain that distinction or allow critical discussion of the Bible as literature?

    No, mandatory teaching from the Bible in our public secondary schools is simply not practicable, and is fraught with litigious possibilities that will only aggravate the poisonous social divide we’re trying so ineffectively to deal with these days. Optional teaching from the Bible is no less problematic, in my opinion. Given the peer pressure on kids and their parents in some communities to participate in “optional” religious activities this would easily and too often become a charade, in the schools and in the school board. And there are the equal-time arguments for other religious texts.

    Jim, you nevertheless seem to say, it’s OK for a locality to go down this path if the community is largely a Christian one; you would shift the burden to others to object. What a spot to put a minority member of the community in! And anyway, if their grounds for objection would be valid, why not ackowledge that up front and prohibit the practice from the get-go? No, the Bible does not belong in our public school classrooms as mandatory or optional teaching material.

    • Acbar – you have a much more temperate and reasonable approach to this and I do salute you!

      But I will also say – no matter how reasonable and logical your argument that the folks on the religious right – have no intentions of accepting it much less supporting it.

      Religious beliefs are so strong for some folks – they’d destroy the fundamental basis for America.

      I apologize but I’ve watched this play out over the last 30 years or so and the folks on the religious right have never once hesitated in their efforts to put Christianity into public schools.

    • ” The Bible does not belong in our public school classrooms as mandatory or optional teaching material.”

      I certainly agree that teaching the Bible should not be mandatory. But I see no harm in making it optional — with the caveats that you mention, that the book be addressed from a historical, literary and ethical perspective. I do agree, you may have some teachers who treat the book as the inerrant word of God. But I see that as an issue for local school boards to thrash out.

      • What’s difficult in these discussions is balance, and especially a balancing of Libertarian instincts (don’t forbid something broadly without trying, just try it and work out the problems afterwards) against the practical (no realistic chance it will work).

        I went to a Episcopal prep school, and we had some great discussions there about the Bible. I wish that could be part of our secondary public schooling. But if it were tried, even if we assume every teacher rose to the occasion and avoided allowing his/her personal beliefs to intrude, the next thing that school board would have to decide is how to weigh the New Testament against the Old on this scale; whether to include the Book Of Mormon, or Malus Maleficarum, or The Satanic Bible in the curriculum; what to do with students and parents who object “irrationally” to studying any of them; why is the Bible a “Great Book” and not one of these? That’s the ultimate slippery slope, and that’s after granting an assumption about the teachers that I think is quite unrealistic. What a mess! Why go there?

  3. How predictable. As the certainty of a Democratic takeover of the state legislature looms the bourbon and branch water elite have a problem. They can no longer depend on a rural Republican gerrymandered majority in the General Assembly to thwart the will of the actual majority of Virginians by using their position in the GA to establish absurd subcommittees to block voting on legislation. The Nanny State will no longer be under the control of rural Republicans. The Nanny State will no longer enforce conservative social mores on an increasingly progressive citizenry.

    Suddenly, Virginia’s strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule doesn’t look so smart.

    Suddenly, localities (like local school boards) should have more say.

    Suddenly, the General Assembly shouldn’t dictate the details of how Virginians should lead their lives.

    The comeuppance for Virginia’s Hee Haw Republicans draws near …

    “Judge Dillon’s revenge on Virginia’s conservatives. Contrary to popular opinion there are some very conservative areas in Maryland. They are too few to affect the state overall but they’re still very conservative. Secession has been discussed frequently in Maryland’s Eastern Shore and recently in Western Maryland, the most conservative areas of the state. Nobody thinks either plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of success but it’s “fun talk” anyway. However, conservative Marylanders have something conservative Virginians don’t – local autonomy. Even income taxes vary by county in Maryland. So, a liberal county like Montgomery has a high county income tax (3.2%) and many government services while conservative Worcester County has a low income tax (1.25%) and fewer government services. Conservative counties can stay somewhat conservative – even in the so-called Free State. Once the libs get full control of Virginia everybody in the state will pour ever more money down the rabbit hole in Richmond. Guns will become a dirty four letter word. School curricula will be standardized along liberal lines and designated safe spaces will be mandatory for all government buildings (including schools). When that happens I’ll be laughing at the addle brained Virginia conservatives who so loved our idiotic implementation of Dillon’s Rule here in the Old Dominion. They’ll have it far worse than the conservatives in Maryland.”

  4. I don’t have a problem with Conservatism… per se.. but when it gets mixed with religion, it’s toxic.

    It seeks to divide people – to divide communities… to essentially make religion a litmus test for society.

    If we did not have a national approach to this and we did let localities do what their local leaders wanted – great swaths of rural Virginia would be religious-ruled enclaves for Christian-only government and schools. That’s the stark reality.

  5. Dear Jim,

    As an Eastern Orthodox Christian I would be apprehensive about this. The Bible is not easy to interpret in places, and, could lead to dissension in class and “brick throwing” or at least condemnations. In addition, the idea of a National Education Association member teacher being its custodian and “interpreter” to children, some of whom, perhaps many, have never even looked at it is not reassuring either. Heretics have badly misused the Scriptures. I am reminded of Saint Ireaneus who said this of a particular sect:
    “How the Valentinians pervert the Scriptures to support their own pious opinions. Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king.”

    I’m undecided and would listen to a response from other traditionalist Christians before saying more.



    • I don’t trust the Roman Catholic Pope to instruct my children in the teachings of the Bible. Why the hell would I trust a public school teacher to instruct my kids on these matters? Let them master teaching kids to learn to read, and art most have not a clue as is to how to do, thanks to our educational elite. Trusting these people to teach one’s kids about the Bible is parental malpractice.

  6. Ouch! Watch the anti-Catholicism.

    • Yes, Peter. Let me clarify. My comment was Pope specific. My faith leans resolutely towards the Catholics, but heavily away from this current “Pope” who is no no Pope at all, in my view, but just another cheap and shallow politician, of which we have too many, in contrast to real Popes such as John Paul and Benedict (the last one.) But Bad Popes are a common as bad people, its always been so. As to bad Pope Francis in particular, I reside firmly in the camp of Maureen Mullarkey. For more of her deep wisdom in faith, and sublime literary , see and read:

      • Here is a taste of Maureen Mullarkey on the fitness of “Pope” Francis:

        “When “the arts of intelligence” are applied to the actions of an office holder who distorts his office, it is reasonable—even mandatory—to withhold respect from him. An office confers authority. How that authority is used determines the degree of respect held out to the officeholder. Respect is earned through right use of authority. It is forfeited by misuse. Deference toward a man who disfigures his office is a species of complicity in the disfigurement. (Consider Yeats’ question. It applies here: “How do we know the dancer from the dance?”)

        Mahoney’s politesse is the requisite stance of a distinguished faculty member in a Catholic institution (Assumption College, Worcester, MA). It is also a deflection from the fact that this pope’s “ample continuities,” all scrupulously observed, are carriers of rupture and contradiction. Protective coloration, they camouflage intent, disguise fracture, and conceal political ideology under stripes of synthetic piety.

        It is a devious tactic—the old Fabian approach. Francis is waging, by degrees, a war of indirection and attrition against the very civilization that honors and sustains the papacy. Francis brings to the Chair of Peter a ruinous cunning that lulls the credulous to accept his reduction of the Great Commission to a left-wing policy mandate.

        Put simply, Jorge Bergoglio knows how to boil a frog. …”

        This is from Francis & Mirages of Fraternity, part 2 found at:

      • “Things like Bible literacy classes are all whistling past the graveyard. The truth is that American public schools are inherently structured to undermine Christianity” says Joy Pullman in yesterday’s article referenced below:


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