Trump Supports ‘Bible Literacy’ Classes in Public Schools

At least six states have introduced “Bible literacy” bills that would allow schools to teach the Bible, a move that some critics say may violate the separation of church and state — but it has at least one big fan: Donald Trump.

President Trump, whose knowledge of the Bible is shaky at best, gave the idea a resounding thumbs-up via Twitter, ensuring that an already fraught discussion would get even more charged.

First, some context. This is not about religious instruction or school prayer. In theory, ”Bible literacy” means that if schools wish to do so, they could teach students about the Bible as a historical document.

In fact, some schools already discuss religious texts in the context of world religions classes or other settings where they’re relevant. For example, when studying the medieval European church in history, it can help to crack open a copy of the Good Book to see what people are talking about.

In some cases, these bills actually require teaching the Bible, adding it to the core curricula that all schools would be expected to provide. Given that these bills do not extend to other religious texts, and that they’re popping up in states where evangelical Christians have a powerful influence on the government, the concept of “Bible literacy” is ringing alarm bells.

These bills are also accompanied by a lot of language about “traditional values” and other buzzwords that very much appeal to the conservative base, but may give others room for pause.

Bible literacy bills are a perfect example of model legislation developed by special interest groups. These groups draft generic legislation that individual state legislators are encouraged to borrow, modify and introduce in their own state houses. And lest you think this is solely about conservatives, there’s plenty of progressive model legislation too.

Model legislation can be a valuable tool for quickly rolling out changes on a state level and encouraging states to pick up tested and effective legislation from peers. Unfortunately, as illustrated here, that legislation can be both good and bad.

Critics fear that Bible literacy legislation could be a backdoor into religious instruction. Instead of teaching students about the Bible, teachers might be more inclined to teach the Bible itself, introducing an element of religious education into the classroom. And that’s a major no-no, not to mention something that has been amply litigated over the years. Evangelism or proselytizing is not permitted in schools, but discussing religious texts in a cultural context is allowed.

In the case of “Bible literacy,” there’s a clear slant towards Christianity that could be a problem if these bills are subjected to legal challenges. Like other issues surrounding curriculum mandates, the Bible literacy bills also raise questions about how much autonomy to give school districts — again, an issue that can be both good and bad, depending on the setting.

The state could, for example, mandate comprehensive age-appropriate sexual education and overrule districts that try to teach abstinence only … or do the exact opposite. And here, the state could make it clear that teaching about religion and using religious texts for reference is a valid educational activity … or it could pass bills that effectively give teachers a license to push Christianity on students. And non-Christians, including teachers, are likely to feel very uncomfortable in what are supposed to be secular schools.

It’s worth keeping an eye on these bills, as well as other education legislation; conservatives have grown very adept at using schools as cover for an agenda that is sometimes hateful and oppressive. In this instance, it’s pretty clear that “Bible literacy” isn’t about making sure that teachers can use a religious text as a class reference if they feel it’s merited, and that it’s more about explicitly centering Christianity in schools.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

70 comments

Paula A
Paula A22 hours ago

yeah, right.

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Susanne R
Susanne R7 days ago

My guess is that Trump is planning to go into the bible-selling business and is creating a huge customer base. With Betsy DeVos in charge, he'll get the contract to supply the schools without even having to compete with other bidders.

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Jessica C
Jessica C7 days ago

The bills won't pass. Separation of church and state. Won't pass- not to worry.

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H8 days ago

I find it hypocritical!

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill11 days ago

thanks

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini12 days ago

Isn't it rather ironic that the president of a nation that prides itself for separating church and state is sworn in with his hand on a BIBLE?????

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Dot A
Dot A12 days ago

"Humility" - guess that concept was missed when Trump was suggesting study of scripture. We did not create ourselves, and this gift of life can be used for a greater good, - guess Trump only saw his name in the book of "Awesome" - and everyone else as his followers. Not to mention, some grace and a healthy dose of mercy for others. Judging others usually just causes struggles, revenge, and undesirable consequences. How about not lying. Oh, that certainly was a big miss!!! And to find love for one another, - We'd all love to see that one realized~ With love we comprehend forgiveness, because we're all flawed. Forgiving allows us to live with ourselves and to find peace with others. "building walls" - seems in opposition to all the above.

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Leo C
Leo C12 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld14 days ago

Karen H.,
Yes, I know that. Your point is?

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Karen H
Karen H15 days ago

Dan Blossfeld, perhaps you should read the Bible instead of just thumping it. Jesus said: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17)

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