Monday, February 14, 2005

Not extinct after all!

It's rare, but sometimes a species thought to be extinct manages to survive, hidden away in some remote valley where it continues to thrive.

To my amazement, I learned today that something once thought to be extinct survives in the valleys of western Virginia: Bible classes for public school students.

The Bible classes began in Virginia in 1929 after a majority of students failed a simple Bible test.

The lessons were conducted inside public school classrooms until 1948, when the Supreme Court ruled that the lessons violated the principle of separation of church and state. A few years later, the court revisited the issue and approved classes held away from school premises.

Most towns have done away with the classes, but the 20 school divisions that have kept the classes generally stretch along Interstate 81 in western Virginia, known to some as the state's "Bible Belt." In the Staunton area, more than 80 percent of first-, second- and third-graders participate.

These Bible classes are completely voluntary. Students are transported from public schools to nearby churches where they take part in what the CNN story quoted above calls "Christian lessons and activities."

Some parents object, arguing that children who opt out of the voluntary classes are stigmatized. I've never thought much of the "stigmatization" argument. The only way to avoid stigmatization is to eliminate diversity altogether, and we'd all be one big happy majority, rejoicing in our sameness.

Objections based on the establishment clause probably have more validity, although this has already been tried in the courts once. At the moment no lawsuits have been filed.

I'm sure modern courts will find a way to eliminate these classes. And I'm sure most students will get their religious education in other ways.

But not all students will. Think of it this way: a person cannot be culturally literate without a knowledge of Christianity. History and literature, to name only two courses, depend on a working knowledge of the Christian faith. For some students these courses may be their only exposure. I would have a hard time arguing that such knowledge is unimportant to a well-rounded education.

I'm sure these classes will be gone faster than you can say ACLU, but for now, let's marvel at the fact that they survived this long.


At 11:30 PM, Blogger Kathleen Nelson said...

But, Drew, you can learn about Christianity without reading the Bible. There are plenty of ways to learn about Christianity that would suffice, rather than busing kids to a Bible class on the taxpayer's dime.


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