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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Winter 2007
Vol. 34 No. 1

Bible Bills, Bible Curricula, and Controversies of Biblical Proportions: Legislative Efforts to Promote Bible Courses in Public Schools

Mark A. Chancey

“This is about more than about God.  This is about politics.”  So commented state Representative Scott Beason on the floor of the Alabama House in January 2006.  He was discussing a bill promoting elective Bible courses in public high schools,[ii] one of eleven introduced that year in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee.[iii]  Each purportedly aimed to create elective courses that would present the biblical material “objectively as part of a secular program of education,” as required by the famous 1963 Supreme Court decision Abington Township School District v. Schempp (374 U.S. 203 [1963]).[iv]  In Alabama and Georgia, legislative efforts took on a partisan dimension as Democrats and Republicans introduced rival bills, with Democrats favoring a textbook produced by the Bible Literacy Project and Republican leaders expressing support for the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.  Much of the public discussion revolved around the Bible Literacy Project textbook, which some legislators hailed as a model of academic responsibility while others attacked it as undermining Christianity.

Beason’s comment was correct: the Bible bills were about both God and politics.  This article serves as a guide to the Bible bill battles of 2006--battles that seem likely to be repeated in future legislative sessions.  It provides an overview of the two primary curricular options, examines notable aspects of key bills, and sorts through claims made by legislators, religious leaders, and interest groups. The bills reflect the efforts of both major political parties to appear “religion-friendly.” The details of those bills, however, often reflected a lack of understanding of the complex pedagogical and legal issues raised by public school religion courses.  The range of reactions to the Bible Literacy Project provides a vivid example of the difficulties of creating courses that meet the multiple standards of Constitutionality, academic soundness, and acceptability to a diverse public. 

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