Religion in schools is a controversial topic, but looks like Kentucky is on its way to offering Bible classes as an elective in middle and high school. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently signed the Bible Literacy Bill into law. While the Kentucky Department of Education is still putting together a curriculum, schools plan to offer Bible classes soon. Students won’t be required to take the classes, but the move is sending a strong signal around the country. Kentucky is a religious, conservative state where 76 percent of residents say they are Christian, and with the passing of the Bible Literacy Law it may be the first of many states to adopt a policy on faith-based electives.
The Bible’s Impact on American History
Representative D.J. Johnson, one of the bill’s sponsors, pointed out that the Bible was the foundation for important U.S. documents like the Declaration of Independence. He added that studying the Bible can enrich student knowledge of social studies. The opening lines of the Declaration of Independence acknowledge a Creator as the source of our rights and say human governments receive their power from and must answer to this source.
In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams wrote that the principles which the Founding Fathers used to achieve independence were also the principles of Christianity. In 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court said American laws and institutions must be based on “the Redeemer of Mankind.” Even Benjamin Franklin proposed each session of the Constitutional Convention open with prayer.
Bottom line, it is impossible to understand American history without a study of the Bible. One way Kentucky plans to teach the Bible involves allowing students to study its cultural impact.
Religion in Schools
The Constitution permits some religious activity in and around public schools, but laws can be confusing. The First Amendment makes two statements concerning religion.
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
- Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Nowhere in the Constitution is there a mention a separation of church and state. Citizens do, however, have the freedom to practice whatever religion they choose. At the same time government (and government-funded public schools) can’t give favorable treatment to religious groups.
Because the Constitution is so brief, people have debated its meaning for years. Arguments rage over everything from whether the words “Under God” should be used in the Pledge of Allegiance to whether it’s OK to pray at football games.
Kentucky Courses Are Expanding Thoughtful Discourse
The Bible courses soon to be offered in Kentucky are about Bible literacy, not religion. One class might examine Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament’s impact on other faiths, or the New Testament’s epistolary literary devices. Its purpose would be to give students knowledge of Biblical content and characters. Biblical poetry and narratives would be studied as literature, not religion.
Other religions will not be covered in Kentucky Bible classes. There are no current plans to offer similar studies of the Koran or other sacred texts. Supporters of the bill say that would be more of a Comparative Religions class than one that promotes Biblical literacy.
The Kentucky Secular Society opposes the bill. They see it as a way for teachers to preach religion in public schools. Opponents say if the bill was about literacy, the course would have included other mythologies and literatures that have had a cultural impact.
Though this conversation is complex, what’s clear is that the Bible has had a positive impact on American history. If you’d like to learn more about our country’s history, be sure to watch “Discovering America’s Founders” and “Proof Through the Night”, both streaming now!