Bible Teaching Should Be a Local, Not a State, Issue

I may be an atheist, but I believe the Bible to be the greatest work of literature in Western Civilization and, thus, the entire world. No person can style himself literate without at least a passing knowledge of its contents and the great themes it explores.

Even secular humanists who reject the Bible as the word of God owe a vast debt to the ethical teachings expressed in the New Testament. Most humanist values can be traced directly back to the sayings of Jesus, whose values were rooted in the Judaic tradition of the Old Testament.

That said, SB 1502, submitted by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, is a terrible idea.

The bill would require local school boards to offer an elective, for-credit course on “the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament of the Bible of the New Testament of the Bible or a combined course on both.” The courses, the bill says, shall not favor or promote hostility toward any particular religion or religious perspective.

The courses shall “introduce students to biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy. ”

It would be a great idea to allow school districts to provide such courses. The Bible is a foundational document of Western Civilization, and its study informs religion, history, literature, and ethics. If a school board in a county such as Grayson, where I’m guessing the population is about 99% Christian, wishes to teach the Bible as a work of literature, I have no problem with that. I’m not one of those atheists who want to expunge anything with a religious taint from the public square.

However, I also believe that local school boards, reflecting local values and priorities, should be making decisions like this, not the General Assembly. Many localities in Virginia have large non-Christian populations — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and, most predominantly, secular humanists — who may actively reject Biblical teachings. Imposing a Biblical course requirement on such diverse school districts can be described only as oppressive.

Instead of mandating a Biblical course requirement, Carrico should be fighting for the freedom of school boards to offer an elective Bible course in their local districts should they desire. Carrico should know: What the General Assembly giveth, the General Assembly can taketh away: If the legislature can mandate the instruction of Bible studies, it can reverse the mandate. Indeed, it can mandate the statewide prohibition of teaching Bible courses in public schools.

Virginia is fast becoming a blue state. The political climate regarding culture war issues — guns, abortion, gay rights, religion in schools, etc. — is about to shift decisively against cultural conservatives. Instead of playing offense — pushing issues such as SB 1502 that are sure to trigger a response from liberals and leftists — Carrico and like-minded brethren should be preparing to play defense. They should be fighting to bolster decision-making autonomy for local governments and school boards, protecting the prerogatives of conservative rural counties like those in Carrico’s district to govern themselves with minimal interference from the intervenistas and social engineers in the metro areas.