More than 350 schools in 43 states have implemented courses on the Bible for the 2009-2010 academic year, a new report reveals.
Leading the pack is Texas where more than 50 schools are teaching the course this fall, according to data from the Bible Literacy Project, which publishes The Bible and Its Influence, a student textbook designed for public school courses on the Bible.
Right behind Texas, schools in Georgia, California and Indiana are widely teaching lessons on the Bible using the Bible Literacy textbook. More than 10 percent of Georgia public high schools and more than 5 percent of public high schools in Alabama, Indiana and South Carolina are utilizing the program, said Chuck Stetson, chairman of the Bible Literacy Project board.
The Bible and Its Influence – reviewed by 40 religious and legal scholars representing evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish communities – is reportedly the first student textbook that fulfills the legal standards of The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide.
It was released in September 2005 and the primary goal of the course is biblical literacy. While providing an academic study of biblical narratives and their influence on literature and culture, the course does not promote or discourage religious belief, the Bible Literacy Project insists.
Their approach is academic and not devotional, and academic study of the Bible in public schools is legal in all 50 states, the organization says.
Increasing knowledge about the Bible is part of a good education; but teaching what to believe belongs in the home," the non-profit states. "We advocate providing a well-rounded, thorough education that includes the basic information students need to fully understand literature, as well as art, music, history and culture."
A 2004 Gallup poll found just 8 percent of public school teens said their schools offered an elective Bible course. But public-school courses on the Bible have been rising in popularity over the past several years.
In 2007, the Texas legislature passed a law requiring public high schools to teach Bible literacy beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. The state law, however, did not provide any specific guidelines or teacher training and left many educators confused.
Some Texas high schools are offering an elective course on the Bible this year while others have chosen to incorporate the lessons into current classes. Still others maintain that religious literature is already taught in their current courses.
The Bible Literacy Project, meanwhile, has made online teacher training available. In partnership with Concordia University's College of Education in Portland, Ore., the organization is sponsoring graduate-level courses on how to teach a legal, rigorous and academic public high school class on the Bible.
The organization is currently seeking to reach educators in the remaining seven states – Delaware, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wyoming – that have yet to utilize The Bible and Its Influence.
"We welcome the opportunity to show these remaining states the strength of our program," said Stetson.