TN Lawmakers Tackle Biblical Illiteracy

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The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. But despite its importance and influence in culture, many Americans are biblically illiterate. Lawmakers in Tennessee want to change that.

A bill has already passed the Tennessee House and Senate, and is awaiting a signature from the governor.

The 'Bible in Schools Act'

Reading Bible stories to her kids is an important part of family time for Elizabeth Tullis.

"You not only get the reading in, but you also teach your children values and character training," she said. "You have an opportunity to teach them about history, different times, different cultures, and the Bible provides all of that."

Time Magazine calls the Bible the most influential book ever written.

That's why Tennessee State Senator Roy Herron wants public schools to be able to teach the Bible, without the fear of being sued.

Herron sponsored the "Bible in Schools Act" -- a bill that allows the Tennessee Board of Education to create an academic, non-denominational elective course about the Bible.

The bill also protects current public school Bible courses being offered in less than 20 percent of Tennessee's counties.

The Bible "has shaped this country and changed this world. Our young people must know the Bible to understand literature, art, music, culture, history and politics," Herron told the Paris-Post Intelligencer.

Professor David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University agrees.

"In schools like Princeton or Brown or Harvard or wherever, will tell you that students that come in with a Biblical formation, rare though they be, go right to the top of the class. This is because they immediately read at greater depth and with greater critical acuity, than students who don't have that formation," he said.

Matters of Church and State

Jeffrey says knowing the Bible is part of understanding our culture.

About 65 to 70 percent of all of Western art until the 20th century was directly influenced by the Bible, and a great deal of 20th century art is still influenced by the Bible.

But opponents are concerned teaching the Bible in public schools will lead to proselytizing and wonder if the bill is a back door attempt at religious instruction.

Herron says the law is constitutional. It does not require schools to offer Bible courses, but it does protect those that do from lawsuits.

"When we're looking for books for our children, we typically look for books that have some depth to them -- a good moral lesson, not just an empty story," Tullis said.

For Tullis, being biblically literate just makes sense.

According to the Bible Literacy Project, public high schools in more than 35 states already offer Bible literacy courses for students of all religious beliefs.

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