Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Bible in Public Schools

The Bible is more-or-less outlawed in public schools. Teachers have even been punished for having their own Bible visible on their desk. Students have been told they could not read the Bible during their free time at lunch or on the playground.

Consider the words of one of the primary contributors to the First Amendment:

Fisher Aimes wrote an article called "School books" in the Pladium magazine in January 1801, "We have trouble in the classrooms, we are putting in new text books. Nothing wrong with new books but we are spending more time on them than the Bible; it is drifting to the back of the classroom. We cannot tolerate this in American education. The Bible's morals are pure, its examples are captivating and noble.

8 comments:

CrypticLife said...

Sure -- because Fisher Aimes was writing at a time when states were NOT affected by the First Amendment. States could ban books at the time too.

History Matters said...

CrypticLife,

Right you are! Many states had some form of official religion at the time the First Amendment was put in place, so the thinking at that time was that the First Amendment limited only the Federal Government.

But even if one accepts that the 14th Amendment makes the Establishment Clause applicable to the states (which is debated by some), Fisher Aimes' comments could still be totally valid. Banning a state from establishing a religion does not prevent a school system from using the Bible (or a school teacher from doing so). The main goal of our Founders was to keep too much power from being too centralized.

Quick Profile said...

The separate of religion and schools is to keep religion from being an institution of the government, not to keep religion from people. Once the government chooses to endorse a specific religion, they it has the power to change that religion to suite its own needs. And when it comes to interpreting something like the Bible, that power is far too great to be held by any government body. Keeping all religious text out of our schools leaves religions to be interpreted those who do not have the power to force their beliefs on others. So the way to keep your religion safe is to keep it out of the schools and government.

History Matters said...

quick profile:

Thanks for the comments. Certainly it is a valid worry that the government could mess up teaching religion. The goal of our Founders was to keep that teaching at a more local level, but surely not to ban it from public institutions.

Given all that schools already try to teach, there is a perception that there is something wrong with having the Bible in school. That is surely more harmful than a teacher giving a sideways interpretation of a Bible passage (which we hope the parents could help correct).

We have reached the point now where history is actually being re-written or at least highly colored. Some school texts are teaching that the first Thanksgiving was for the Pilgrims to give thanks to the Indians, rather than to thank God.

Given the attitude of some teachers, I would not want them interpreting the Bible for my kids. But then I don't want them to instill many other values they already do.

But that is my opinion, and you have your opinion. And that is where the discussion should be. If you feel strongly about the issue (not that having a Bible in school is an issue today - it just isn't done much), then go to school board meetings or serve on the board. The district or community should have the decision. It should not be handed down by the Supreme Court that students can't see a Bible in school. That is the kind of centralized power the Founders were trying to avoid with the First Amendment.

If you read the background (plus my first comment) for this blog here, you will see that I mostly want to 1) restore some historical perspective, and 2) stop using the bogus argument that "separation of church and state" would keep the Bible out of public schools or decide many of the other issues that are attached to that metaphor.

Quick Profile said...

Since you know that you would also need to teach all other religious text and that parents, not schools, teach morals, I can only assume that your argument is a thinly veiled attempt to market Christianity. Sure this country was founded on some Christian principles, but it was also founded on the backs of slave labor and then only after exterminating the indigenous people. Neither of those are particularly proud historical foundations, but I don’t see anyone trying to resurrect those ideals.

And yes, our inception as a country was truly awesome, but it was by no means perfect. It took almost 100 years before those “inalienable rights” were given to blacks and another 50 before they were given to women. So we as a country have evolved and we cannot go back to the way things were. During that evolution our country decided that the separation of church and state included excluding all religious text (yes that does include the Bible) from schools because it openly endorses one religion above all others. Please stop pretending that you aren’t just trying to use this page for anything except pushing your religion on others, because no one is buying it. If you want a nation where government and religion are one, move to Iran.

History Matters said...

Please keep the discussion civil.

Let me address some of Quick Profile's points.

Since you know that you would also need to teach all other religious text...
You're talking about using schools to teach religion. I am not suggesting that. I point to the use of the Bible in schools to point out that the Founders apparently thought the First Amendment they wrote and ratified did not limit even those action.

...I can only assume that your argument is a thinly veiled attempt to market Christianity.
No, my point is that we should not mis-use the Constitution to "un-market" Christianity.

Sure this country was founded on some Christian principles, but it was also founded on the backs of slave labor and then only after exterminating the indigenous people. Neither of those are particularly proud historical foundations, but I don’t see anyone trying to resurrect those ideals.
Again, I'm not trying to resurrct all of the Founders behaviors; merely to restore a reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment.

And yes, our inception as a country was truly awesome, but it was by no means perfect. It took almost 100 years before those “inalienable rights” were given to blacks and another 50 before they were given to women.
Actually, that more-or-less makes my point. First, the Founders put in place a government that would allow for such changes. AND those changes were made by the Constitutional process of amendments. They were not made by a Federal court that happened to lean politicly one way or another at some point in history (and which could be reversed by a different court later).

So we as a country have evolved and we cannot go back to the way things were. During that evolution our country decided that the separation of church and state included excluding all religious text (yes that does include the Bible) from schools because it openly endorses one religion above all others.
The "country" didn't exactly decide that. It was the Supreme Court. The particular court that got the ball rolling with the 1947 Everson decision did not use precedent and did not even use the text of the First Amendment. It used an interpretation of Jefferson's metaphor, a metaphor that the late Chief Justice Renquist said should be abandoned. So which Justice is right? Is it Black of Everson, or Renquist? If we had put in place an Amendment that said no Bible could appear in a public school, I would have very little to argue with. That's the way the process works. The earlier evolutions (14th and 19th Amendments) were, I believe the type of evolution the Founders had in mind. Jefferson gave us the "separation of church and state" metaphor (he actually borrowed it from Roger Williams, who used it in a somewhat different context). Jefferson might not be pleased with the Supreme Court using his words to limit state and local powers in the area of religion (or any other area). In the 1820's he said, "The great object of my fear is the Federal Judiciary. That body like gravity, ever acting, with noiseless foot, and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step, and holding what it gains, is ingulphing insidiously the special [state] governments onto the jaws which feed them."

Please stop pretending that you aren’t just trying to use this page for anything except pushing your religion on others, because no one is buying it. If you want a nation where government and religion are one, move to Iran.
No, thank you. I prefer the country I live in and I would prefer that we simply follow the rather brilliant and often copied Constitutional process. On the other hand, if one really wanted full separation, consider:
UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC (U.S.S.R.)
Constitution, 1922-1991, stated in Article 124: "In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. Is separated from the State, and the school from the church."

FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE U.S. CONSTUTION (religion clauses only):
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Leon said...

Gee, there is an interesting point from "quick profile". there's already a lot of blogs and opinions that say you can't do anything religious if you are related to the government at any level. but he wants your opinion to be removed. i wonder if he has read the rest of the first amendment??????

quick profile said...

leon,

I said nothing about having his opinion removed, only that we have decided that Thomas Jefferson was right and that Church and State should not mix. That means that religion should not be taught in schools. That mean that the Bible cannot be used in classrooms because it endorses one specific religion. And that means that his opinion, although fully legally expressed, is in strict disagreement with our Separation.