Bible Classes Must Meet Constitutional Requirements, Americans United Tells South Carolina Education Officials

Church-State Watchdog Group Advises Educators To Reject Biased And Flawed Curriculum Materials

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged South Carolina education officials to make certain that two new public school courses designed to teach about the Bible meet constitutional requirements.

“Public school courses about the Bible must be objective, balanced and fair – not Sunday School lessons,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Any approach that is not even-handed will spark a lawsuit.”

Under a measure signed into law June 18, the South Carolina Department of Education has been charged with adopting academic standards and appropriate instructional materials for two optional courses on the Bible:  History and Literature of the Old Testament and History and Literature of the New Testament.

In a letter to State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and other officials, Americans United advises South Carolina educators to follow specific steps to assure that the classes remain focused on objective education, not religious indoctrination.

The letter, signed by Americans United State Legislative Counsel Dena S. Sher and the Rev. Robert M. Knight, president of AU’s Charleston Chapter, advises Rex that in order to survive a legal challenge, the courses must present the Bible in a secular, objective and academic manner.

The classes must also, AU insists, expose students to critical perspectives on the Bible and a diversity of biblical interpretations; refrain from portraying the Bible as literal, religious truth; and not present a particular sectarian point of view. Several court cases are cited to back up these assertions.

The Americans United letter notes that two prominent Bible curriculum packages being offered to public schools are flawed.

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools’ “The Bible in History and Literature” is evangelical in nature, and portions of it have already been declared unconstitutional in public schools by a federal court.

The Bible Literacy Project is offering a textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, that is also flawed. The book, AU charges, is tilted toward an evangelical point of view, contains errors and lacks any discussion of biblical criticism.

Asserts the AU letter, “The State Board of Education should also consider developing training materials and resources for teachers of these courses.  Ensuring that courses on the Bible are taught objectively and on a secular basis is not an easy task – teachers should be provided with all the help they need to present the course material in a manner that respects all faiths and religious traditions and neither disparages nor encourages a commitment to a set of religious beliefs.”

AU’s Lynn said South Carolina officials must be careful as they take this step.

“School officials are being urged to wander into a potentially dangerous constitutional thicket by state legislators who pass laws establishing these classes,” said Lynn. “Americans United intends to make sure that the courses do not become vehicles for proselytizing.”

The South Carolina controversy comes during a renewed nationwide push for public school classes “about” the Bible. Georgia and Texas have passed laws encouraging Bible classes, and other state legislatures have considered them.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.