Schools Should Teach Christianity's Role in U.S. History, Say Evangelicals

Teaching the importance of Christianity in U.S. history is common sense, asserted several evangelical leaders in defending a new Texas law that requires public schools to incorporate Bible literacy into the curriculum.

Americans can disagree on a personal level with what Christianity claims to be true, wrote Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, but they "cannot question" the "central importance" of those Christian truths to the men who help founded the nation.

"Understand America's history without any reference to her Christian heritage? You might as well try to tell the story of Huck Finn without mentioning the Mississippi River," Daly wrote in a column posted in The Washington Post.

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Daly was among several prominent evangelical figures who participated in the "On Faith" opinion blog in The Washington Post to discuss the question "Should public schools teach religion?"

This fall, K-12 public schools in Texas are cobbling together new curriculums that incorporate the Bible after a state law passed in 2007 made it a requirement.

Provisions in the law called for the course to maintain "religious neutrality" by ordering teacher training, state-approved materials and curriculum standards at levels the attorney general considers adequate.

But there have been many complaints over the lack of guidance and funds to incorporate Bible literacy into curriculums.

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministry, avoided the nitty-gritty part of the debate, but said the Bible should be taught to American children on the basis that all educated person, regardless of their religion, should have knowledge of the Bible.

He pointed to a survey conducted by the Bible Literacy Project that found every professor surveyed, including scholars from liberal universities, agreeing with the statement "Regardless of a person's faith, an educated person needs to know about the Bible."

George P. Landow, professor of English and Art History at Brown University, similarly said "[Without the Bible] it's like using a dictionary with one-third of the words removed."

Ulrich Knoepflmacher, professor emeritus of English at Princeton University, further commented that the lack of "Bible knowledge is almost crippling in students' ability to be sophisticated readers."

Colson, who was a White House aide during the Nixon administration, contended Texas public schools should teach students, from a historian's perspective, how Judeo-Christian thinking played a pivotal role in the West.

"Certainly, at the very least, subjects like these need to be covered to prepare our students for college," Colson maintained.

Other evangelical leaders commended Texas for educating its students based on facts rather than a textbook of "political correctness."

"This is a matter of historical accuracy; nothing more, nothing less," wrote Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

But the evangelical Hispanic leader cautioned Texas to not confuse "historical contextualization" with "religious endorsement." He called on public schools to protect the religious freedom of all students while also teaching them accurate history of America.

This is the first school year affected by the new Texas law. Many public schools in the state are still struggling to meet the Bible literacy requirement that has been criticized for being too vague. Some schools have offered an elective Bible course while others incorporate the Bible into current courses. The practical response to the law has been very diverse given the little guidance by lawmakers and the Texas Board of Education.

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