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Bible-literacy text advances in Alabama

By The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama schools could begin using state funds to pay for a Bible-literacy textbook, which sparked debate in the Legislature, as early as fall 2008 after members of the school board approved it last week.

Legislation to put The Bible and Its Influence in Alabama schools failed two straight years amid loud debates over its content, whether it should be mandatory and whether legislators should be involved in the first place.

But Alabama quietly became the first state to adopt the book when a list of more than 2,500 books — including the one in question — was approved by the school board on Oct. 11.

"I think the term 'under the radar' would be appropriate," board member Betty Peters of Dothan said on Oct. 17. "I think that's what it was. If they had gone over it, it might have passed just as fine anyway, but now I'm getting very disturbed because I don't feel like I've been leveled with."

Peters and Stephanie Bell of Montgomery were two school board members who testified against the book, which is meant for students in grades 10 through 12, when it was before the Legislature. They questioned its take on Christianity and the need for the Legislature to mandate its use.

Critics were against some of the questions the textbook asked students, such as: "Did Adam and Eve receive a bad deal?" and "If God is good, why does he allow bad things to happen?"

Shelia Weber, spokeswoman for the Bible Literacy Project, said those sentences were removed in a second printing of the book.

"We did make some minor changes to the book," she said. "It was a gargantuan task to get all of the topics right. We had 40 scholars review the book and we said if we heard a lot of (complaints on some areas) we would be sensitive to it."

The textbook, which was developed by the Front Royal, Va.-based project, is not mandatory and must still be approved by local school districts. The board's vote allows the school systems to use state money instead of local funds to buy the book.

Alabama House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, who introduced the legislation to use the textbook in a Bible class, said he was surprised but pleased with news of the board's approval.

"The textbook is excellent. It enables the students to see how the Bible has influenced the culture that we live in," he said, adding that he hopes school districts will take advantage of "this quality book, quality program."

"It's been permissible for years in Alabama but very few school systems offer it — because of fear of litigation," he said.

Weber said the project offers free legal representation to any districts that are sued over the curriculum, which uses the Bible as an accompaniment. The book is being taught in 163 schools in 35 states.

The partisan split over the book, which covers the Bible's contents and its influence on cultures, history, literature and the arts, was somewhat reversed than past debates on teaching the Bible in school, with Republicans opposed to use of the textbook and Democrats in support.

"I'm shocked that they adopted it," Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said of the board. Beason, who was a state representative during the initial legislative debate in 2006, said he didn't like the book because of its content. He said it might be time to review how books are approved in the state.

"I think adopting textbooks in a wholesale manner is a mistake," he said. "(The board) should be able to withdraw their approval. The legislature could try to step in, but I think it's now up to the local school boards and parents to look at the book and ask 'Why is this book so important to the left in this state?'"

The state's textbook committee is made of elementary, secondary and higher education teachers and makes recommendations to the state school board.

Anita Buckley Commander, who oversees the department's division that includes curriculum and textbooks, said the list of possible books was on their Web site for months and no one spoke out against the book at public hearings.

Bell said she had asked Superintendent Joe Morton to discuss the situation with the board next week. She said board members had asked the committee if any of the books were controversial or needed to be flagged for discussion before approval and were twice told "no."

"I think that makes you question why did they not inform the board along the way," she said. "It would have been the department's responsibility to provide board members instead of us finding out from a press release that it had been on a list of [thousands of] books."


New text on Bible's influence renews religion, public school debate

National Council on Bible Curriculum, others question course offered by Bible Literacy Project. 05.14.06

Few Ga. school districts sign up to offer Bible classes
State school board finalized curriculum for elective classes last March, but some districts say they'd rather leave that instruction to churches. 01.14.08

Will new textbook bring peace in school Bible wars?
By Charles C. Haynes The Bible and Its Influence may give public schools their best shot at teaching about the Bible in a constitutional way. 10.02.05

Playing politics with the Bible: Coming to a school near you?
By Charles C. Haynes Public schools need to teach about the Bible, but not a prescribed, narrow interpretation. 04.16.06

Bible showdown in Odessa could have Texas-sized impact
By Charles C. Haynes When school officials try to turn a classroom into a church, sometimes it takes a judge to draw the First Amendment line. 05.27.07

The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide

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