That's the first question that deserves an answer before lawmakers continue with a bill sponsored by state Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, that would allow schools to offer an elective social studies course on the Bible. The bill has already passed in the House and could soon get a hearing in the Senate.
Baker says a student would not be required to use a specific translation of the Bible, but whose Bible?
Protestants, of course, read one version of the Old Testament, Catholics another that has several more books with additional chapters in the books of Daniel and Esther, while Orthodox Christians have more books yet.
When a public school teacher opts not to teach from a Bible that includes 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Tobit or Judith, etc., the message will be clear — your version of Christianity is less than my version of Christianity.
Teaching the Bible as history or literature can easily blur into proselytizing because the line between teaching the Bible as history and literature and discussing faith is so thin as to be invisible, and once a public school teacher starts discussing what the Bible says about any number of controversial topics — homosexuality, for example — the teacher, school, parents and students will all find themselves in a First Amendment church-and-state minefield.
Brian Kaylor, editor and president of Word and Way, a Baptist news publication, said, “I think this will create litigation down the road as some teachers may be emboldened by this legislation and cross that church-state line."
Amen to that!
Baker also argues that a better understanding of the Bible and its role in American history is warranted, but that raises yet another question: Which history?
The Bible has inspired much of what is great about America — our understanding as expressed in the Declaration of Independence that human rights do not come from the state, but from a "Creator" who transcends the state; and it inspired abolitionists and civil rights leaders and so much more. But the Bible was also used — the story of Noah and Paul's letter to Philemon, for example — to justify slavery.
Even a cursory glance at our history makes it undeniable that the relationship between the Bible and America is a complicated one.
Baker's bill may be well-intentioned, but it is not well thought out.
Leave the Bible to Sunday school, not public school.