By: Anthony J. (Tony) Sacco, JD
First published from Pine Bluffs, May, 2006: Revised and Re-printed from Cheyenne, May 2019.
During remarks to the British Parliament back in April 1770, Edmund Burke, the Irish orator, philosopher and politician said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” [Yes, that was Burke. Not Jefferson.] He was right.
The more or less constant battle on the world scene between good and evil has been joined here in the United States of America. Portions of our society are on a slippery slope of decline. Disagreement, dissent, and discord abound. Paradoxically, in other segments, good things are happening, such as the almost total ban on abortions by the legislatures of several states.
One of the good things occurred in Atlanta during May 2006, when Georgia’s Governor, “Sonny” Purdue, who took office on January 13, 2003, inked a bill permitting Bible classes in public high schools. Governor Purdue believes that “providing a safe and nurturing environment for children is a moral obligation shared by all.” Here’s a leader who saw the rot attacking our youth and decided to try fixing the problem. Part of his solution? Put God back in the schools.
As of 2006, approximately eight percent of the nation’s public schools offered some form of Bible study, but this Georgia statute was to be the first to establish statewide guidelines and set aside public funds for a Bible course. The State’s School Board was given the task of determining how the course would be taught.
In drafting their law, I’m hopeful the Georgia Legislature took into consideration this statement made by Justice Thomas Clark in the 1963 Supreme Court decision forbidding devotional reading of the Bible in public schools, (Abington School District v. Schempp), when he made THIS distinction: “Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.” This bit of law is the basis upon which many high schools and colleges have implemented courses on The Bible as History and other courses of the same nature, which deal with religion and the Bible as a part of our culture.
However, when I wrote the article, I was thinking there’d be bitter court battles waged by those who’d rather see metal detectors at the doors of our schools and armed security guards patrolling the halls, than to allow our kids to begin their day with the calming influence of The Lord’s Prayer over the PA system, or studying the Bible in a classroom setting a couple times each week. THAT is exactly what has happened. In passing, I should note that when I was coming through the public school system in the early 1950s, the practice of a brief Bible quote followed by The Lord’s Prayer was exactly what was being done in the public school I attended.
In prior years, when Bible study had been allowed on public school property, it had been done informally. But two nationally prominent groups soon developed comprehensive curricula. One such group, the Bible Literacy Project, published The Bible and its Influences, in textbook form, in September 2005. It was quickly approved by both Christian and Jewish groups. By 2006, thirty schools were using it in a pilot program, with eight hundred more interested districts waiting in the wings. This was, at that time, the only First-Amendment-safe textbook that supported academic study of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Developed over a five-year period with input from 40 leading scholars, religious leaders, and academic practitioners, The Bible and Its Influence is an opportunity to share the contents of the Bible in an appropriate way. Used in combination with the Bible, the textbook presents biblical content – the narratives, characters, plots, poetry, letters, events, parables, prophecies, and proverbs in the Bible. The program was designed to address the fact that, without an understanding of the Bible, young people’s education is incomplete. Today’s youth cannot fully understand literature, art, history, music or culture without an understanding of the Christian Bible. Because of its broad acceptance in the educational community and its widespread use nationally, it has become the standard for academic Bible study in the United States. It is also fast becoming the academic standard in the global community.
The other organization, The National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), a conservative nonprofit organization supported by many conservative evangelicals – Pat Robertson was one – believes that its three-hundred page The Bible in History and Literature is being utilized in over three hundred-fifty school districts nationwide.
The NCBCPS was founded in 1993, and as of 2000 its curriculum had been in use in at least 70 public school districts across the United States. Of course, it has been criticized by separationists as presenting a religious interpretation of the Bible as well as an unbalanced view of American history which promotes specific religious beliefs. The use of the curriculum has been challenged in lawsuits in two school districts, which have withdrawn the course as contravening the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
So, battle lines have been formed. “You can’t turn a public school classroom into a Sunday school classroom,” said a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a euphemistic nomenclature for a group whose idea of freedom is limiting “freedom from” something; in their case, religion in the public square. They had gone so far as to pay for a study of the Council’s curriculum. Driven by an erroneous interpretation of the so-called Doctrine of Separation of Church and State, which is NOT in the Constitution, others of the Madeline Murray O’Hare ilk have banded together to litigate, based upon the sixteen-word Establishment clause. Many of the existing court challenges have originated in the State of Texas.
Back to 2006: the Council’s curriculum teaches the Bible from a conservative Protestant viewpoint, and the Council believed its approach is constitutional, based upon Justice Thomas Clark’s distinction in the 1963 case mentioned above. However it did begin to offer free legal help to districts using it, should they need it. Back then Georgia State Senator, Tom Williams, co-sponsor of the Bill in that state, used the Council’s curriculum as a guide when he helped draft the legislation. “We simply have to teach, ‘this is what happened’. Now, make your own judgment,” he said.
As someone who believes that we should never have allowed God to be removed from our nation’s schools – we’ve been experiencing the bitter consequences ever since – I wrote that I’d “be watching this experiment in Georgia and in the five states considering taking the same tack, with considerable interest.” Today, this approach has spread like a wildfire. It is now taught in over 625 public high schools in 43 states and has achieved a 10 percent market share in six states in the United States. More than 125,000 students have benefited from instruction based on this textbook.
Dr. Sacco, a published author of four novels, The China Connection, Little Sister Lost, Return to Darkness, and The Secret of Hagia Sophia, is a licensed and bonded private investigator in Cheyenne, WY (soon to be a resident of North Carolina) who holds a BS Degree from Loyola University Maryland and a Doctorate of Law from the University of Maryland Law School. He has also published Echoes in the Wind, a biography of Boston sports great, Guy Vitale, . Reviews of his books may be found at http://www.amazon.com, and http://www.barnes&noble.com. E-mail Dr. Sacco at firstname.lastname@example.org.