Religion’s central place in national and international political issues has created a push to teach students about religion in public schools. While many Americans, educators and parents are eager to have public school students learn more about religion, battles rage over how to do that. They include controversies and lawsuits over elective Bible classes as well as textbooks ranging from science to history to health.
- Georgia became the first state in the country to approve the Bible as a textbook when Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill passed by the Legislature.
- In 2007, Alabama became the first state to approve a Bible textbook for its curriculum.
- As school districts debate how and whether to teach students about religion, many observers say that religious points of view are often present in textbooks anyway, particularly in the presentation of sexual education, evolution and creation, world religions, and sexual orientation.
Why it matters
Religion’s role in global events has brought new attention to the need for Americans – including young people – to know basic information about world beliefs. As schools become more diverse in their students’ faith backgrounds, teaching about religion.
“Student religious expression in public schools: United States Department of Education guidelines”
The U.S. Department of Education has guidelines, issued in 1998, for teaching religion in public schools.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life offers resources on issues involving religion and public schools.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: Education
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provides a resource page on issues relating to religion and public schools, such as the evolution debate.
The Wabash Center for teaching and learning in theology and religion, in Crawfordsville, Ind., offers many online resources. Nadine Pence is the center’s director.
Why Study Religion
See Why Study Religion, a Web resource developed by the American Academy of Religion as an effort to encourage disciplined reflection on religion, both from within and outside of communities of belief and practice.
“When Would Jesus Bolt?”
Read an April 2006 Washington Monthly profile of Randy Brinson, one of the primary advocates of “The Bible and Its Influence.”
“Teaching the Bible in Georgia’s Public Schools”
Read a March 29, 2006, New York Times story about Georgia becoming the first state to approve the Bible as a textbook.
“Democrats in 2 Southern States Push Bills on Bible Study”
Read a Jan. 27, 2006, New York Times story about when Democrats in Alabama and Georgia introduced legislation to teach the Bible in public schools.
“Bible Literacy Report”
The Bible Literacy Project offers a list of biblical terms teens should know versus what they do know.
“Texas picks textbooks that stress abstinence”
Read a Nov. 6, 2004, Dallas Morning News story posted by the Seattle Times about the outcome of the Texas vote.
“Textbook debate in Texas over sex education”
Read a July 21, 2004, MSNBC.com article on the sex education textbook debate in Texas.
Textbook Censorship in Texas: A Timeline
The Texas Freedom Network offers a timeline of the battle regarding censorship of school textbooks in Texas.
National sources on Bible curriculum
Sarah Jenislawski is executive director of the Bible Literacy Project, founded in 2001 to encourage academic study of the Bible in public schools. It’s based in Front Royal, Va.
Elizabeth Ridenour is president of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, whose goal is to introduce a state-certified Bible elective into public high schools nationwide. See a list of its advisory board and board of directors. It’s based in Greensboro, N.C.
Jon Butler is emeritus professor of American studies, history and religious studies at Yale University. He co-edited Religion in American Life, a 17-book Oxford University series that treats religion as an academic subject for children and young adults.
Harry Stout is professor of American Christianity at Yale University. He co-edited Religion in American Life, a 17-book Oxford University series that treats religion as an academic subject for children and young adults.
First Amendment Center
The website maintained by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., is a lengthy and comprehensive source on First Amendment issues, cases and history.
The First Amendment Center posts research and commentary on religion in public schools.
The Anti-Defamation League tracks discrimination based on religion. ADL has 30 regional offices. Check with local ADL officials for a breakdown on the number and type of antisemitic incidents in your area and for leads on interfaith initiatives.
The Anti-Defamation League offers a primer on religion in the schools.
Mark Chancey is associate professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who has written about teaching the Bible in public schools.
Joseph Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote a critical review of the student text “The Bible and Its Influence.”
Leland Ryken is Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois. His expertise includes the teaching of the Bible.
Bruce Grelle, a professor of religious studies at California State University, Chico, directs the Religion and Public Education Project, which provides general information about the ethical, legal, and educational issues that arise in connection with the topic of religion and public education.
Robert J. Nash
Robert J. Nash is a professor of leadership and developmental sciences at the University of Vermont, Burlington. He wrote the 1999 book Faith, Hype and Clarity: Teaching About Religion in American Schools and Colleges (Teachers College Press, 1998).
Martin Marty, retired professor of religion at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, is the author of Education, Religion and the Common Good: Advancing a Distinctly American Conversation About Religion’s Role in Our Shared Life.
Diane L. Moore
Diane L. Moore is senior lecturer in religious studies and education and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School.
Michael Broyde is a professor of law and senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta. He edited the book Marriage, Sex and Family in Judaism.
National sources on textbooks
Steven Buri is president of the Discovery Institute in Seattle. The think tank is a prominent opponent of Darwinian orthodoxy and has found many instances in which it says Texas biology textbooks are inaccurate or misleading. It also pushes school districts to have textbooks that teach the controversy over creationism and evolution.
Phyllis Schlafly is the founder of Eagle Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative grassroots organization involved in the public school textbook controversy from the conservative Christian side.
Shari Rendall is director of legislation and public policy for Concerned Women for America, a conservative group that aims to bring biblical principles to all levels of public policy.
J. Kerby Anderson
J. Kerby Anderson is president of Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas, which aims to bring biblical teachings into American public life, including the schools.
Dan Quinn is spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network in Austin, a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan alliance that includes more than 7,500 religious and community leaders concerned about the “growing social and political influence of religious political extremists.” The group has been at the forefront of trying to prevent religious conservatives from controlling the content in school textbooks in Texas.
Steven Schafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science. He has accused critics of trying to water down school textbook coverage of evolution so they can pressure publishers to include religious-based explanations for the origin of life.
Barry Lynn is executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C.
American Jewish Committee
The American Jewish Committee is an international think tank and advocacy organization that works to identify and fight anti-Semitism and bigotry, protect human rights and protect Israel and Jewish life everywhere. Its executive director is David Harris. Contact via Jon Schweitzer, director of public affairs.
National Coalition Against Censorship
The National Coalition Against Censorship fights censorship in many places, including television. Joan Bertin is executive director.
Michael B. Keegan
Michael B. Keegan is president of People for the American Way, which fights against censorship.
In the Northeast
Nadine Strossen is a professor at New York Law School and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union. She has written extensively about constitutional law and civil liberties and about students’ rights.
James W. Fraser
The Rev. James W. Fraser is professor of history and education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University. He wrote Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multicultural America.
Charles L. Glenn
Charles L. Glenn is a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Boston University. He wrote “P.C. Censorship of Textbooks” for The Journal of The Historical Society (2004) and The Ambiguous Embrace: Government and Faith-Based Schools and Social Agencies.. He has written on children, religion, and education.
Joan DelFattore is a professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del. She wrote The Fourth R: Conflicts Over Religion in America’s Public Schools (Yale University Press, 2004) and What Johnny Shouldn’t Read: Textbook Censorship in America (Yale University Press, 1994).
Susan D. Rose
Susan D. Rose is a professor of sociology at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. She wrote “Christian Fundamentalism and Education in the United States” for the book Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family and Education (University of Chicago Press, 1997), which includes a section on Christian fundamentalism and public education. She also wrote the article “The Sexual Politics of the Religious Right: Sex-Ed and the Public Schools” for the Journal of Religion & Education (1996) and Keeping Them Out of the Hands of Satan: Evangelical Schooling in America (Routledge, 1990).
Melissa Deckman is professor of political science and public affairs at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. Her specialties include religion and politics and women and politics. She wrote School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics (Georgetown University Press, 2004) and “Christian Right School Board Candidates” for the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics (Facts on File, 2003) and co-wrote Women With a Mission: Gender, Religion and the Politics of Women Clergy.
In the South
Ted Trost, University of Alabama American religions professor, has taught a course about religious themes and rituals in popular film.
Kathleen Flake is Richard Lyman Bushman Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She has written extensively on Mormons and is the author of The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle.
Francis J. Beckwith
Francis J. Beckwith is professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He writes and comments widely in defense of traditional Christianity. He also wrote Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.
Mark Roncace chairs the religion department at Wingate University in Wingate, N.C., and is co-editor of Teaching the Bible: Practical Strategies for Classroom Instruction (Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2005).
Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.
Eugene F. Provenzo Jr. is a professor of education at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. He wrote Religious Fundamentalism and American Education: The Battle for the Public Schools (State University of New York Press, 1990).
Patrick N. Allitt
Patrick N. Allitt is a professor of American history at Emory University in Atlanta. In his book Religion in America Since 1945: A History, he looks at the role religion has played in public school education. He is also an expert on religion and environmentalism and is author of the book A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism. He has also written about American Catholics and the environment.
James C. Carper
James C. Carper is a professor of education at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a nationally recognized expert on religion and public school education. He has written several books and articles on the subject, including “To the Advantage of Infidelity or How Not to Deal with Religion in America’s Public Schools” for the journal Educational Policy (November 2000). He also edited Curriculum, Religion and Public Education: Conversations for an Enlarging Public Square (Teachers College Press, 1998).
Edward J. Larson
Edward J. Larson is a professor of law at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several books dealing with the controversy of evolution versus creationism, including Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution and Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.
Patrick Gray is assistant professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., and co-editor of Teaching the Bible: Practical Strategies for Classroom Instruction (Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2005).
In the Midwest
David Sikkink is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He wrote the article “Who Gives to the Poor? The Role of Religious Tradition and Political Location on the Personal Generosity of Americans Toward the Poor” for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (1998).
Stephen Webb is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and a member of the American Academy of Religion’s group on animals and religion. He has written multiple books on animals and religion.
Joanne C. Brant
Tyron Inbody is a professor emeritus of religion at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He wrote “School in American Religious Thought” for the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy (1999).
Fritz Detwiler is a professor of religion and philosophy at Adrian College in Adrian, Mich. He wrote Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right’s Fight to Redefine America’s Public Schools (New York University Press, 1999).
Martha May McCarthy
Martha May McCarthy is a professor emeritus of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. She is an expert on religion and public education and wrote “Religious Influences in Public Education: Political and Judicial Developments” in Educational Forum (2000) and “People of Faith as Political Activists in Public Schools” in Education and Urban Society (1996).
In the West
Brannon Wheeler is director at the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He co-edited the Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. He has said that the Quran does not take a moral view of good and evil, but rather views the terms in relationship to people’s obedience to God’s commands.
Jesse H. Choper
Jesse H. Choper is emeritus professor of public law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is an expert on church-state issues and U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding religion. He is the author of Securing Religious Liberty: Principles for Judicial Interpretation of the Religion Clauses. He was a law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren.
E. Vance Randall
E. Vance Randall is a professor of educational leadership at the school of education at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He wrote “Religious Schools in America: Worldviews and Education” and “Culture, Religion and Education” for the book Confronting Our Cultural Pluralism: Religion and Schooling in Contemporary America (Garland Publishing, 1997).