Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Bible, Public Schools, and the Law

While goofing around on YouTube today, I came across this little ad (it's only a minute) from Chuck Norris:

Looks like he's with some organization that's trying to get the Bible back into the public schools. Of course, I could quibble with a few things, like the assertion that our forefathers founded this country on "Biblical principles" (you know, other than slavery). Also, I hate the whole doom and gloom about how "God knows" that we need to change the course of our country. (Yeah! Bring back Jim Crow laws and take away women's suffrage!) I'd also have a major problem with a history class using The Bible as its sole textbook (and yeah, I know, he didn't use that exact wording).

What really bothered me though was a lot of the comments from YouTube users who don't seem to understand what the Constitution actually says. No, I'm not picking on Christians; I'm picking on some of my fellow nonbelievers. One guy asks, "Has Chuck Norris ever read the Constitution?" My question to him is: "Have you?" So, for those of you in a coma, here's the First Amendment again:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I teach some Bible stuff to my senior English class, and frankly, I plan on expanding on my whole religious literacy unit. Before I do, I always feel the need to explain that I'm not breaking any laws by doing this. In fact, the textbooks have excerpts from The Bible (including an insultingly abridged version of the Sermon on the Mount). The point is, you can teach the Bible without violating the First Amendment.

How? Think about it. I teach my students about the Greek and Norse gods. I also did a unit on Hinduism. Yet nobody thinks for a moment that I'm somehow violating the Constitution when I do that. After all, it would be absurd to assume that I'm encouraging the kids to worship Zeus and Odin simply by teaching them about him. Well, the same idea applies to Jesus. I can teach what the story is without preaching it. In fact, since it's more likely that there are people who worship Jesus than Odin, I freqently pepper my lessons with phrases like, "That's how the story goes, and whether you think that's literally true is your choice to make in life."

The really funny thing is that people like Chuck Norris obviously aren't considering the far-reaching implications of what they're advocating. Take a look at Europe. They have religious education in the public schools, and they are far less religious. Now there very well may be some other factors at work here, but it's safe to say that teaching The Bible doesn't necessarily make one a believer in The Bible. While I've had kids actually tell me that they gained a greater appreciation for their faith through my lessons (how's that for irony?) I've never had a nonbeliever suddenly go, "Hey! Something about this Jesus guy being the son of God makes sense!" If anything, what I do only seems to reinforce what they already feel to be true. Who knows? Maybe I've planted some seeds that will make some of the believers more skeptical, but let's face it - I'm one out of a half dozen teachers they've had just that year. My influence can only go so far.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think your last blog that spring-boards off of Norris' propaganda and then goes on to discuss some of the issues surrounding teaching the Bible in class is your best one I've read. I may have only read like ten of your posts, but this one was concise and true. Some people can't understand an honest attempt to teach certain things without bias or secret motives; one student's father questioned me heavily about a Marx lesson (with Animal Farm), insinuating that I'd better not be turning his son into a Communist or teaching the Manifesto in its entirety (his first words: "you aren't teaching that book, right?").