Biblical Literacy Is Important. Which Is Why We Shouldn’t Let Public Schools Teach It
David Harsanyi
By

On Monday, President Donald Trump “cheered on the controversial push to introduce Bible literacy classes to public schools,” according to Politico. Trump, as he does, was reacting to a “Fox and Friends” report (based on a USA Today article) that detailed efforts by about half a dozen states to pass bills that would push for public schools to feature elective courses studying the historical context of the Bible.

As you already know, “controversial” is often-used media euphemism that denotes an issue liberal Democrats deem troubling. Critics claim that teaching biblical literacy is a violation of the separation of church and state. “Anything that might send a message to our children that you have to be a Christian to be a full American is extremely problematic,” explained Amanda Tyler, executive director of Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a group that that opposes prospective laws.

I’m not crazy about the notion of public schools teaching biblical literacy classes, because those institutions tend to politicize every topic. A far better solution is to allow parents to send their kids to the schools of their choice. But does anyone genuinely believe that teaching kids some basic history about the most consequential book in history is tantamount to the “establishment of religion?”

Now, I’ve never been a Christian a single day of my life, yet I own numerous books exploring both the history and theology of Christianity—including one or two Bibles. Not once have the pages of any of those manuscripts squirted holy water in my direction in an effort to baptize me. Nor does a public school transform into a house of worship simply because a teacher explains the difference between the Pentateuch and the gospels to a 12th-grade class.

In 2017, Kentucky passed legislation that instructed public high schools to offer elective literature courses on the Bible and Hebrew scriptures. This is hardly creationism. I can tell you from experience that high school curricula, often crammed with ridiculous electives, have plenty of space for a class about the foundational text of the world’s three great monotheistic religions.

Biblical literacy is important in society. There is little way to fully comprehend the ideals of the founding of the United States — or large swaths of Western literature, music, and culture — without, at least, an elementary knowledge of biblical history and theology. That’s, of course, for those who are taught civics in the first place.

Even today, at least 70 percent of American adults identify as being members of some denomination of Christianity. No one says you have to be Christian to be an American. But how can you be an educated citizen if you don’t understand the rudimentary aspects of our dominant faith? How is a person equipped to debate public policy that intersects with that faith if he doesn’t have basic Bible literacy? Perhaps the sad state of contemporary journalism on this matter offers us a taste of what that future might look like.

Both the Politico and USA Today articles made sure to highlight Trump’s evangelical support (fair enough) and his gaffes and sins as a way of intimating his hypocrisy. “Trump has also admitted to making hush money payments to women alleging affairs with him while he was married to first lady Melania Trump,” Politico informs us in an article about state-level education policy.

Guess what? Even if Trump were putting on weekly Caligula-style parties in the Lincoln Bedroom, Americans kids could still benefit from a well-rounded education. And considering mainstream journalism’s embarrassing track record  on the topic of faith, you’d think they would be more supportive of measures that educate the next generation.

So, theoretically, I am sympathetic to the call for biblical literacy. The indoctrination of kids in the public school systems has been one, if not the greatest, victories of the modern left. Biblical literacy classes, however, will almost surely be coopted by the usual suspects. The real attack on the separation of church and state isn’t an elective class but the insistence that the Americans with modest means continue funding failing public education systems rather than being allowed to send their own kids to parochial or private institutions.

If you’re genuinely upset that public schools might feature an elective class about the history of faith, you can now better understand how upset social conservative parents are whose kids have been bombarded with both subtle and overt political activism, Malthusian environmentalism masquerading as science and attacks on their values.

Fortunately, there is a solution to all our problems. If you’re put off by the thought of your kids being captive to the state-run school that is at the mercy of the majority of the voters who show up or the teachers unions, you too should support more school choice and more vouchers.

This way, if you’re interested in classes about “restorative justice” and scaremongering about the weather, you can send your kid to the local public school. And if you want your children to obtain a classical or religious education, there is a school for you, as well. It’s the only answer in an increasingly divided nation.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of the new book, First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today. Follow him on Twitter.

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