Is Arizona’s Public School Bible Course a Good Idea?

Arizona governor Jan Brewer is considering signing into law a bill that would “make the Bible and its role in Western culture the subject of an elective high school course.” The Senate passed it with a vote of 21–9 after it was approved by the House. The content of the course would be left to the Board of Education to develop. I’m not optimistic. What makes anyone think that those on the Board will present an accurate historical assessment?

Will parents think it’s now safe to send their children to government schools now that an elective course on the Bible and Western culture is being offered? Who will teach the class? What perspective will be presented? Who will develop the text book?

Secularists don’t want to give up the near monopoly they have on education in America. Charles Francis Potter, who founded the First Humanist Society of New York in 1929 and signed the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933, made no secret of the purpose of the American public schools:

Education is thus a most powerful ally of Humanism, and every American public school is a school of Humanism. What can the theistic Sunday-school, meeting for an hour once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?1

R. J. Rushdoony pointed out the Humanist design for education in Intellectual Schizophrenia (1961) and The Messianic Character of American Education (1963). According to Rushdoony, modern government education “is erosive and destructive of all culture except the monolithic state, which is then the ostensible creator and patron of culture. When it speaks of the whole child, it speaks of a passive creature who is to be molded by the statist education for the concept of the good life radically divorced from God and from transcendental standards.”2  Rushdoony was not the first to understand the goal of statist education. Robert L. Dabney (1820–1898) saw it more than 100 years ago:

[T]he Jeffersonian doctrine of the absolute severance and independence of church and state, of the entire secularity of the State, and the absolutely equal rights, before the law, of religious truth and error, of paganism, atheism, and Christianity, has also established itself in all the States; and still the politicians, for electioneering ends, propagate this State education everywhere. By this curious circuit “Christian America” has gotten herself upon this thoroughly pagan ground; forcing the education of responsible, moral, and immortal beings, of which religion must ever be the essence, into the hands of a gigantic human agency, which resolves that it cannot and will not be religious at all. Surely, some great religious body will arise in America to lift its Christian protest against this monstrous result!

What would America be like today if Christians had heeded Dabney’s warnings and some “great religious body” had arisen to make the break from an educational system that was designed to be the indoctrination center for the State and its messianic motives? The usual Christian response is to reform the public schools, to get more parents involved, sue to get a moment of silence, prayers at sporting events and commencement exercises, release programs, and pass laws to teach the Bible as literature as they’ve done in Georgia.3

There will be pressure groups in some cities to teach the Koran. Then there’s the question how the Bible will be taught. Will the Old Testament be taught as myth? Will someone teaching on the Olivet Discourse point out that Jesus was mistaken about His coming? There is the larger issue of funding. Public schools are tax-payer funded. People who have no children are taxed to pay for the education of other children.

  1. Charles Francis Potter, Humanism: A New Religion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930), 128. Quoted in David A. Noebel, J.F. Baldwin, and Kevin Bywater, Clergy in the Classroom: The Religion of Secular Humanism (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Press, 1995), vi. []
  2. R. J. Rushdoony, Intellectual Schizophrenia: Culture, Crisis and Education (Vellecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1961] 1998), 10. []
  3. David Van Biema, “The Case for teaching the Bible,” Time (March 22, 2007). []