Donald Trump on Monday tweeted his support for measures — in a handful of states — to teach Bible literacy classes in public schools, as the Hill reports. And while on its face the move seems to be a patently-obvious violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which says that the government cannot endorse any religion, the idea actually has some merit. If — and that’s a huge if — it’s done correctly.
The Bible As The Foundation For Western History
The history of the United States of America is inextricably tied to that of Europe. After all, it was European explorers who first mapped out the New World, and it was European settlers who by-and-large populated what would later become the U.S.
European history is, in itself, inextricably linked to Christianity and to the Bible.
There is, for example, the Apostle Paul’s multiple missionary journeys across Europe and Asia Minor — including his final journey to Rome — which laid the foundations for the Catholic Church The Catholic Church would dominate European history for the next few centuries. There are Jesus Christ’s teachings, which, while not always followed to the letter, certainly informed European thought and scholarship. There were the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holy Roman Empire — all moments of European history that descend directly from Christian history and from the Bible.
And of course, the Bible itself informed American history immeasurably. The Bible informed ideas from manifest destiny — the belief that it was God himself who granted the wide-open spaces of America to be settled — to the harsh and theocratic laws of the Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials, to early laws granting religious freedom only to Christians. This latter issue would be addressed later in the Constitution’s First Amendment.
To these ends, any college-bound high school student would do well to understand the biblical foundations of European and, later, American history.
The Bible As The Foundation For Western Culture
Of course, history and culture go hand-in-hand, and the Bible’s impact on Western culture can’t be discounted.
Our daily lives are filled with references to the Bible. You may have read about a good Samaritan in a headline today. You may have reminded your misbehaving child about the golden rule. Or you may have heard the chaplain of Congress, during the government shutdown, remind lawmakers that federal workers — who had been working without pay — need their paychecks.
“The worker deserves his wages. Luke 10:7.”
There’s also the fact that much of how we Westerners live, even if we’re not Christians, is informed by the Bible. Western law, for example, largely descends from the concept of “Do unto others” (Matthew 7:12), while Islamic law, by comparison, largely depends on strict adherence to the dictates of the Koran.
But It Has To Be Done Right
While the idea of teaching the Bible in public schools, strictly from an academic standpoint, has merit, there are as many ways that this could go wrong as ways in which it could go right.
The problem is that the line between teaching a religious text — be it the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, or whatever — and endorsing the message within those texts, is razor-thin. That, in turn, raises more questions than answers. Who is going to teach the classes? Bringing in a local pastor is almost certainly playing with fire. Who is going to write and to approve the curriculum? In some states, it will undoubtedly be a school board who views the Establishment Clause as an inconvenience.
Fortunately, these things tend to police themselves, as just about every public school has at least one atheistic student who’s not afraid to call the ACLU when things go awry.
Still, at the end of the day, the idea that the Bible can’t be taught in public schools at all is wholly without merit. Sure, religion is a hot potato in public schools — one that many administrators won’t touch. But the Bible is not only a religious text — it’s been studied academically for centuries, and strictly as an academic subject, there is a place for it in public education.