2014 Archives

How Should We Teach the Bible in Public Schools?


The following commentary by Mark Chancey, religious studies professor at SMU, ran on the Jan. 7, 2013, edition of ReligionandPolitics.org.


January 13, 2014

By Mark A. Chancey

This past summer marked the fiftieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Abington Township v. Schempp. That case is most famous for its prohibition of school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools, but it also figures prominently in American educational history for its endorsement of the academic, nonsectarian study of religion in that same setting. The Court famously noted: It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. As a biblical scholar who teaches about religion for a living, no one has to convince me that the Bible is worthy of study, as are other aspects of religion beyond sacred texts and other religious traditions beyond those that utilize the Bible. There are strong civic reasons for teaching about religion in K-12 contexts: Religious literacy is essential for the smooth functioning of a pluralistic democracy in a shrinking world. The issue is not only understanding the world “out there,” beyond American shores, but also understanding our own society, which is increasingly religiously diverse. Biblical literacy is a key component of this much-needed broader religious literacy. The issue of how public schools teach about religion is relatively under-studied, but it is clear that confusion abounds on the question of how to meet the Court’s benchmark of objective, secular presentation....

See more at: http://religionandpolitics.org/2014/01/07/how-should-we-teach-the-bible-in-public-schools/#sthash.zO25OsCG.dpuf

Mark A. Chancey is Professor of Religious Studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He serves as co-chair of the Society of Biblical Literature's Working Group on the Bible and Public Education.