Features

Making inroads?

National | A Bible curriculum "we can live with"

Issue: "The Dutch culture of death," May 23, 1998

Besides gates and bridges, some Christians are trying a third way of dealing with the public schools: making inroads.

In Florida, Lee County schools are among a growing number that have begun teaching the Bible as history. It's taken two years of fighting by conservative Christians on the Lee County school board, but students at four of the district's eight high schools can now take an elective class on the Old Testament.

"It's the book I took my oath of office on, and it's the basis of Western Civilization," explained school board member Lanny Moore (who is also a member of the board of the nonprofit organization that oversees WORLD magazine). "But no one could talk about it."

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The battle, as Mr. Moore sees it, is to interject some common sense into public education. When the Bible was banished, curricula were left with gaping holes. "How do you explain Mardi Gras, without mentioning Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or Easter?" Mr. Moore maintains. "How do you teach students about the Pilgrims if you can't bring up the Bible?"

Still, the American Civil Liberties Union, education bureaucrats, and even the Fort Myers newspaper saw a darker conspiracy when board member Beverly Kahn proposed a Bible class in 1996. The board voted 4-1 to allow it, but seven parents in the district, backed by the ACLU and People for the American Way, sued. The American Center for Law and Justice has stepped in and defended the district. In January, a federal judge bizarrely ruled the Old Testament could be taught, but not the New. And the classes had to be videotaped to make sure no "indoctrination" was taking place.

This was far from a total victory. "We have a curriculum we can live with, but it's not perfect," Mr. Moore said.

The curriculum was designed by a committee, though some members of that committee were opposed to the Bible's being taught at all. The compromise materials include a textbook-An Introduction to the Bible (by James R. Beasley, et al.)-that warns: "When a biblical text is taken out of historical context, one may conclude, for example, that the killing of non-combatant women and children in battle is justified, that men should sport 'short' hair, that women should be relegated to silence in worship, and that one should remain celibate if unmarried.... A careful reading of the texts justifies none of these conclusions."

Are these inroads worth pursuing? Mr. Moore says yes.

"I guess I would agree that the public schools are almost hopeless," says Mr. Moore. "Almost. That doesn't mean that some lives can't be changed within them."

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