(Photo: AP Images / Lefteris Pitarakis)
In honor of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, every state primary and secondary school in England is set to receive a copy of the holy text distributed by the Department for Education.
Close to 24,000 Bibles are being distributed all across England, with Education Secretary Michael Gove insisting that every child should have the chance to read "the most important book written in the English language." According to The Daily Mail, the initiative was being backed by religious leaders across different religions, as well as academics, historians and cultural figures.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has reportedly shared with Grove that he supports the idea, but wanted to make sure that the project is not being funded by taxpayers' money, in order to avoid conflicts with non-religious groups opposed to the plan. Grove has expressed that it was with the help of charity money that the project got funded.
"Thanks to the generosity of a number of charities, supported by philanthropists, we have been able to mark the 400th anniversary of its publication by making a copy available to every school in the country," the education secretary said, according to the BBC.
Some atheist groups, however, have called the project unnecessary.
"This is not simply another piece of literature, it is the holy scripture of one particular religion. The money used for this project could have been better used to sponsor other books that are less easily available to pupils," said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society
The Bibles were expected to start arriving this week, and by the end of the month all schools in England should have a copy of the King James Version.
"Every school pupil should have the opportunity to learn about this book and the impact it has had on our history, language, literature and democracy," Grove explained.
The first official translation of the Bible into English, also known as the Authorized Version, was first published in 1611, and takes its name from King James I, who commissioned its publication in 1604. As the official Bible of the Church of England, the KJV became popular worldwide when it was spread with the expansion of the British Empire.
"This is a fitting way of marking the seminal contribution this version of the Bible has made to our culture. It symbolically places the King James Bible at the heart of the educational process which it inspired," expressed the Right Rev. John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and chairman of the Church of England Board of Education.
Maulana Shahid Raza, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, also expressed support for the initiative.
"I hope it enables children of all faiths to discover the heritage and cultural legacy of their country and helps them to grow up in a peaceful, cohesive and tolerant society," Raza reportedly said.