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Giving Compass' Take:
• David Mislin unpacks the long history of the fight over reading the Bible in public schools, which has long divided groups along and across religious divisions.
• Is it appropriate and constitutional to teach religious doctrine in public schools? How can funders help to create agreement on a contentious subject?
• Read more about the debate over bringing religion into public schools.
Officials in six states, including populous ones such as Virginia and Florida, are considering bills permitting the study of the Bible in classrooms. Proponents of these bills insist that the Bible would be treated as a historical and literary source, not as a means of religious guidance.
Last week, President Trump tweeted his support for these laws, writing, “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes. … Starting to make a turn back? Great!”
As a historian who has studied how American Protestants have engaged with the culture at large, I worry these bills threaten to reignite one of the oldest church-state controversies in U.S. politics. While Trump and his evangelical base support the bills, critics oppose them for fear their real intent is to teach Christianity in public schools.
This is an old debate. Bible reading in schools was among the first social issues to split American Protestants into competing liberal and conservative camps.
Still, the Bible continued to be read in some U.S. schools until the Supreme Court stepped in. In 1963, the court declared the practice unconstitutional.
The response to this decision, and to another case on school prayer, highlighted how Bible reading in schools had divided Protestants. In 1964, a constitutional amendment was introduced to restore Bible study. Liberal Protestant groups like the National Council of Churches helped lead opposition to the amendment.
As the historian Neil J. Young has shown, conservative Protestants disagreed on amending the Constitution. Nevertheless, prominent conservative voices urged the return of “Bible reading to the public schools.”
Read the full article about Bible reading in public schools by David Mislin at The Conversation.