(Photo: The Christian Post/Sonny Hong)
WASHINGTON — An education expert has argued that United States public schools can benefit immensely from reading the Bible in literature classes and having prayer in schools.
William Jeynes, senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute and an education professor at California State University, made these arguments in a presentation Wednesday at the Family Research Council.
Titled "Putting the Bible and Prayer Back in the Public Schools," Jeynes said there are many benefits to keeping the Bible in public schools and drawbacks from when, during the 1960s, courses were taken out.
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that sectarian Bible classes could not be in public schools.
In the decision Abingdon v. Schempp, the court did allow for the teaching of the Bible, provided it was done in a neutral, objective matter.
"This is a very, very important topic," said Jeynes, noting that some consider the Supreme Court decisions removing compulsory prayer and Bible classes from public schools as "the most spiritually significant event" in U.S. history in the past 60 years.
For his presentation, Jeynes laid out how the Bible was regarded in education before the 1963 decision, the harmful effects of removing the Bible from public education, and the efforts to launch the Bible in literature classes across the country.
Jeynes asserted that allowing for the Bible to be studied in literature classes helps students have a better understanding of western literature, aids in helping them understand faith-based arguments and ideas, and helps with moral development.
When asked by The Chirstian Post about whether or not other religions' books should have similar courses, Jeynes replied that the Bible has had the most influence on U.S. history.
"It's very clear that, in our society, even though there are other holy books, the one that has influenced our history and our literature the most is the Bible," said Jeynes.
"Like it or not, it does. It has a special place in our society. It should have a special place in our curriculum."
Occasionally, proposed courses have come under fire from church and state watchdog groups for allegedly fostering Christian indoctrination in public schools.
Jeynes also said that the appeal of having the Bible taught in literature courses is growing, with about 440 school districts nationwide allowing for the elective.
"If you were to look at a map … of which districts have the Bible as literature back in the public schools, they usually run in clusters," said Jeynes.
"For example, what happens is that you'll have one district that offers the Bible as literature and then maybe some parents right on the border between two districts who communicate with one another … that parent addresses the school board or communicates with some education leaders."
Jeynes told CP that this cluster effect can be found at the state level, as the map of states either allowing for districts to have these classes or having a state level allowance are grouped together regionally.
"There are clusters of states. So usually, if one state brings it in, a neighboring state will say 'hey, now that's a good idea, why don't we do the same?'" said Jeynes.
Pat Fagan, director of the FRC's Marriage and Religion Research Institute, gave the introductory remarks describing Jeynes' background.
"[Jeynes] does things in hundreds and dozens. He does journal articles in the hundreds and books by the dozen," said Fagan.
"He's one of the leading research experts in education in the country. This has led to him being invited by both the George W. Bush administration and the Barack Obama administration to address issues of the effect of faith and family on education."