Teaching the Bible in Public Schools
"David and his Goliath of ambition." That is how one article during the last session of the Texas Legislature was headlined regarding Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Without any knowledge or understanding of the Biblical story behind David and Goliath, this headline and its intended impression has little or no meaning. Without a second thought, the reporter or editor who crafted the headline demonstrated that the literary influence of the Bible extends well beyond Sunday mornings.
The Texas Legislature passed a bill, which I was proud to sponsor through the Senate, to require public schools to offer a non-devotional, academic elective course in Biblical text, if such a course were requested by 15 students in grades nine through twelve. This elective course is intended to promote Biblical literacy to fully understand and appreciate our historical writings and contemporary references.
There is little serious debate that Biblical literacy is important to understanding the underpinnings of western civilization, American history, and contemporary culture. American political, civil, and literary writings and speeches make oblique and direct text references borrowed from the Bible. An academic study even found as many as 1,300 Biblical references in the collected works of William Shakespeare.
The debate does not center on the value of Biblical literacy to a well-rounded education, but rather, the debate centers on whether such a study can be achieved without violating the establishment clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court, in ruling against prayer in public schools, left room for academic instruction so long as it is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education," to quote Justice Tom C. Clarke. Therefore, it is permissible to study the story of David and Goliath with an understanding of the Jewish writer's conviction of God's role in that event, while not requiring a student to share in that same conviction.
This issue of indoctrination is not limited simply to courses in religious study. Conservatives may be concerned whether political science teachers are indoctrinating liberal positions, or free-market capitalists may be concerned with economics teachers instilling an appreciation for socialism or communism. And, of course, many people of faith believe in religious explanations for human existence while the public education system provides only a non-religious explanation. We trust our teachers to teach their subjects in politics, economics, and science in a manner that is well-rounded and without indoctrination, and there is no reason to believe a teacher entrusted with the task of teaching the text of the Bible would be any less professional in this education.
In a cover story of Time magazine in April 2007, the writer answers whether the Bible should be taught in public schools with a simple, "yes, but carefully." The point of the article was to stress teaching without preaching. That is what distinguishes a Bible course as an elective in public school from a Bible class on Sunday morning. The critics in opposition to teaching the Bible should join in being guardians against indoctrination and help shape the secular presentation rather than simply being a "Goliath" in opposition to Biblical literacy.
I strongly support the Constitutional prohibition against religious indoctrination as a citizen, parent, and lawmaker; however, it should not become a tool to remove or bar an academic study of the best-selling and most influential book in world history from our public schools.
State Senator Craig Estes (Wichita Falls-R) is Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs, and Coastal Resources, and represents Senate District 30 comprised of Archer, Baylor, Clay, Cooke, part of Collin, part of Denton, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Shackelford, Stephens, Throckmorton, Wilbarger, Wise, Wichita, and Young counties.