Comes now the parting of the seas in this desert state, a division which will no doubt further split Republicans from Democrats, conservatives from liberals.
Because we don’t already have enough in this state to fight about, we are now preparing to take up the delicate question of whether to bring the Bible into public schools. Specifically: whether the Legislature should authorize a new elective course for Arizona’s high schools.
To wit: The Bible and Its Influence on Western Culture.
Six states have already done it, according to William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University-Long Beach.
Arizona appears poised to be the seventh.
“This isn’t about putting a pulpit in the classroom,” the bill’s sponsor Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, told the House Education Committee on Monday. “It’s about educating our children about our culture and how it’s influenced society.”
Give Proud credit for trying to do right by students.
It’s an entirely logical and academically sound idea that we educate children about the Bible, offering them an opportunity to better understand western culture and the world around them. Who can argue against the idea that a foundation in the good book is part of a well-rounded education, one that would lead to better understanding of Shakespeare, of Michelango, of The Matrix?
But logic and sound academics are trumped by emotion and the suspicion that surrounds religion. People can’t agree to call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree. How can we expect that they will sit quietly while a public-school teacher talks about Adam and Eve or the Ten Commandments or Jesus Christ?
They will scream separation of church and state even though it is perfectly legal to discuss the Bible in a public school as long as it’s done in an objective and neutral fashion.
The devil, of course, is in the details, that oh-so-fine line between teacher and preacher.
“Our concern … in setting up a separate course independently dedicated to Bible study is the potential to go from neutral discussion into religious construction,” Anjali Abraham, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told the committee.
It’s a significant concern. As is the concern that if this bill passes, the Bible will be the only religious book allowed in Arizona’s public schools. State law now bars “all books, publications, papers and audiovisual materials of a sectarian, partisan or denominational character” from schools.
If we’re going to let the Bible in, then I don’t see how you keep the Quran or other religious tracts out without running afoul of the Constitution. Otherwise, Proud’s bill won’t be so much about a well-rounded education as it is about well-endowed attorneys.
Yet House Bill 2563 cleared the committee, 6-2, on a partyline vote.
“Our country is falling away from its moral base and its religious background, “Rep. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, said, in voting no. “But I do believe that this is the responsibility of parents … to take their kids to church, to make sure they do the Sunday school and the vacation Bible school and the church camps and that they bring back the family values that we were all raised on.”
She’s right. But a strictly academic study of the Bible as literature should not be something we deny our kids just because we’re afraid of the topic.
It would require a well crafted, more inclusive bill. It would require restraint. It would require trust that this isn’t just another attempt to sneak the old camel’s nose under the tent.
A half a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that you cannot and should not push religious study or prayer in public schools. But when did we decide that meant our schools should ignore the role of religion in our country’s history and in our culture?
I’m pretty sure the Bible says something about ignorance.
Maybe if I hadn’t gone to public school…