(Photo: Reuters/Chris Keane)
Chuck Norris, famous action star and outspoken Christian, argued in favor of incorporating Bible study in public schools in America, writing in a recent column that Thomas Jefferson would have backed the idea.
"True, Jefferson thought it best that (religious education) not be included among the curricula in the earliest stages of children's schooling," Norris wrote, who along with his wife, Gena, is on the board of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, referring to Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia book published in 1785.
Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, wrote that "The first stage of this education being the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great mass of the people will receive their instruction, the principle foundations of future order will be laid here. Instead, therefore, of putting the Bible and the Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history."
The actor reminded readers that Jefferson added right after that that "the first elements of morality, too, may be instilled into their minds: such as, when further developed as their judgments advance in strength, may teach them how to work out their own greatest happiness."
Norris argued in a column published on News Busters that Jefferson was not against religious education in public schools, but wanted to make sure students were sufficiently matured before tackling religious questions.
"The fact is that Jefferson, who is regarded today by so many as the 'great separatist,' did not separate religious education and expression from public education," Norris continued. "In fact, he was against limiting education and stifling Americans' freedoms in any form, including religious expression and education."
The actor concluded by wondering what Jefferson would have thought about a completely secular public education system today in which the Bible is generally "scorned and prohibited."
Secular groups in America have often spoken out against including Bible classes in public schools, and have warned against the distribution of religious materials to students.
The American Civil Liberties Union said in August that Kentucky school districts allowing Bible giveaways from Gideons International constitutes a violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits favoring one religion over another.
The ACLU argued that distributing Bibles to students "violates clearly established federal law, and that the organization will assess future incidents of similar conduct for potential litigation."
A recent survey conducted by Barna Group on behalf of the American Bible Society found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that public schools should include values based on the Bible in their curriculum.
As many as 66 percent of respondents to the survey said that teaching the Bible in public schools is important, while 75 percent said that it could help reinforce moral principles.
"While our intention may be to protect students from the influence of 'other people's' religion, the effect has been that we are raising a generation ignorant about the most influential book of all time," ABS President Doug Birdsall commented on the results.