Last year, the Georgia legislature passed a bill that allows the state's public high schools to offer elective courses on the history and literature of the Bible.
The idea is for students to become familiar with the customs and cultures of the places discussed in the Bible. The class will also discuss the languages in which the Old and New Testaments were originally written, and the circumstances of their translations.
These courses will not in any way indoctrinate students in religion, and the classes will be taught in an objective and non-devotional manner. The primary textbook for the courses will be the Bible, although the legislation does not specify which version.
The Middle East is one of the most complicated and important regions in the world, and no book or artifact is more valuable than the Bible for studying the history, geography, anthropology, and archaeology of this critical area. In addition, the Bible is one of the most important primary sources in Western civilization; it's important that students read it.
The Bible can also be a tool in encouraging good behavior. Many of its stories teach timeless life lessons that go beyond particular faiths. The story of David and Goliath might give a student courage to try even when success looks unlikely. The Golden Rule and the Good Samaritan teach students to act compassionately toward their classmates and the world around them.
Students deserve to know this history and literature, and there is no better way of doing so than by teaching them with the Bible itself.
Senator Tommie Williams
Georgia State Senate
As a United Church of Christ minister, I revere the Bible, but I also believe in the separation of church and state.
Americans practice at least 1,500 different faiths, and 20 million Americans do not subscribe to any faith at all. That's why our public schools should not single out any particular faith's holy book for special treatment.
Our public schools are not religious academies. They serve students of all faiths and those with none. Public schools must be focused on preparing students for life in an increasingly diverse and competitive world.
Public schools should teach about a variety of religions and beliefs. Focusing on a single holy book, such as the Bible, has the effect of promoting particular religions.
When a public school sets up an entire course on the Bible, it sends an inappropriate message: that those religions are more important than others. They should instead respect the First Amendment principle of church-state separation and not use their positions to promote any religion over others.
This does not mean that religion needs to be ignored in public schools. There are numerous areas where the Bible and other religious works can and should be discussed. Religions did play roles, good and bad, in world and U.S. history. Religious references and biblical images appear in literature and art and can be explained when they come up in a class.
Singling out the Bible for special treatment in its own course is neither necessary nor wise.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn
Americans United for Separation of Church and State