July/August 2019 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Most Americans don’t support public-school classes that focus on teaching solely about the Bible, a new poll indicates.

The poll, produced for The Hill newspaper by polling firm Harris X, asked respondents, “Should public schools be required to offer classes on the Bible and not other religious or atheist books?”

Only 12 percent agreed that teaching about the Bible only was appropriate. Sixteen percent backed teaching about all religious texts but excluding atheism. Seventeen percent called for including all religious books as well as atheistic publications. Nineteen percent said no religious books should be taught in public schools, and 18 percent said it should be up to local school officials to decide. (The rest expressed no opinion.)

Bills that would allow or require public schools to offer classes that purport to teach about the Bible as an academic subject have surfaced in several state legislatures lately, and a few have been written into law.

While Americans United supports objective instruction about religion in public schools, the organization has expressed concern about the new push. Some legislators, AU asserts, seem to be advocating for classes that aren’t objective or that promote conservative views of Christianity.

“It’s part of an effort to establish this sort of narrow Christian agenda as the norm for our country, the government-sanctioned and -supported norm,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, told The Washington Post recently.

Americans United and other critics note that the push for so-called “Bible literacy” bills is being spearheaded by Project Blitz, a Religious Right effort to pass legislation in the states that favors conservative Christianity. The groups behind Project Blitz – the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation and WallBuilders – don’t want truly objective instruction about the Bible in public schools, says AU.

The Post reported that in Kentucky, which passed a Bible literacy bill in 2017, the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been monitoring the situation. The ACLU singled out four districts offering problematic clas­ses. Two of them have since drop­ped such courses, which were electives, citing low student interest. The remaining two programs in question are in the cities of Glasgow and Paducah.

In Paducah, one high school student, Maggie Dowdy, said she enjoyed the Bible course because it gave her an alternative to evolution. “When I started learning about [evolution], I thought: ‘That’s not true. Here’s what I believe,’” Dowdy told The Post. “I just kind of push it aside now. I know what I believe in. It’s just something the teachers have to teach us, but, no, I believe in creation.”