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The Need and Legal Right to Teach Religious History in Public Schools

December 10, 2016

Did you know that public school teachers can teach the Bible in the classroom?  Yes they can, but with certain restrictions.  While public educators may not teach the Bible as a devotional, they may teach the Bible as literature or as a book that has influenced history.  As such, they are not allowed to instruct or require students to believe or accept the teachings of the Bible, but they may present and discuss the Bible’s literary qualities and relevance to and impact in culture, society, and the world.  Teachers may also lead the study and comparison of different religions.

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The U. S. Department of Education has summarized these rights in its Legal Guidelines on Religious Expression in Public Schools:  “Public schools may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture.  The history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature, and the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries all are permissible public school subjects.”

Along those lines, Texas, my home state, has an education law (28.011) that allows Texas public high schools the option to teach an entire elective course about the Bible.

It is a good thing that students have the freedom to read and learn about the Bible in school since it is one of the most influential books in history, society, culture, and literature—both in the United States and in the world.  If students do not learn about religion and the Bible, they are left with a substantial deficiency in their knowledge of and ability to understand the world around them.

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has acknowledged the importance of teaching students about religion in school in its Study About Religions in the Social Studies:  Omission of facts about religion can give students the false impression that religious life of humankind is insignificant or unimportant.  Failure to understand even the basic symbols, practices, and concepts of the various religions makes much of history, literature, art, and contemporary life unintelligible.  … In the 21st century, religious literacy is essential for understanding the role of religion in public life, negotiating differences in the public square, and forging public policies that serve the common good.  That’s why schools have a civic and educational responsibility to include robust study about religions in the social studies curriculum.”

Simple guidelines are available to assist educators and schools in understanding their legal rights in the classroom when it comes to teaching about the Bible and religion.  In addition to the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines, for example, First Liberty Institute provides a small booklet, the Religious Liberty Protection Kit, to guide both teachers and students in their religions rights.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

Source for more information:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2015.  “The Need and Legal Right to Teach Religious History in Public Schools,” pp. 25-27.


Activity:  America’s Heritage:  An Adventure in Liberty (HS Edition), Religious Expression in Public Schools Unit, pp. 167-184.

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This unit is available to download in the Member Resources on www.americanheritage.org.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

Published by: The Founding

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