There is no reason whatsoever to question Mrs. Ridenour's complete sincerity on this : she blames an alleged decline in American morals on the removal of the Bible from American schools. I say 'alleged decline' there because by proxy data which societal morality has been traditionally measured - rates of murder and violent crime, divorce, and teen pregnancy to name a few - America society has been growing steadily more "moral" since roughly 1992 : since then, those trends have been in steady decline. By such measures, the American social fabric has been growing more healthy, not less.
Mrs. Ridenour's sense of impending doom - though it may now be less than firmly moored in empirical fact - was initially, perhaps, tied to a real perception of the rising tide of social pathology that peaked almost everywhere in the US in the late 1980's to mid 1990's, and Elizabeth Ridenour's perceptions of growing societal dysfunction, as of the time when she wrote the following, were not inaccurate [ although most of my aforementioned trends had, by 1998, indeed reversed ] though her prescription for addressing those perceived trends almost certainly is.
What is interesting to me in the following excerpt concerns the extent to which Elizabeth Ridenour seems to have felt that she'd uncovered a hitherto unnoticed causal relationship that seems more like a law of physics than anything else : human morality and societal health - as commonly defined - are inextricably to tied the Bible.
THE BIBLE IS BACK!
by Melanie Hemry
Elizabeth Ridenour paused, the words the Lord spoke to her heart seemed to echo through every cell of her body.
I have something important I want you to do.
If anyone had told Elizabeth two years before that she would learn to hear the voice of God, she would have been hard pressed to believe them. Even now, the idea that God - the Creator of the universe - had an assignment for her was almost overwhelming. At times it seemed as though an unseen hand had ordered her steps and brought her to this place.
Shaking her head as if to clear it, Elizabeth left her place of prayer. As she walked toward the kitchen to start breakfast, she glanced at a stack of books and smiled at the names on the covers - Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.
The Copelands' books had been instrumental in bringing Elizabeth from darkness to light. It was easy to imagine God speaking to them and saying He had an important assignment for them,
But me? she laughed. Me?
"I had no idea what it was that God wanted me to do," Elizabeth explained, "I just knew He was dealing with me about something. So I began to pray. Meanwhile, I held intercessory prayer meetings.
"I also got involved with 'Meet Me at the Pole' and Christian students' rights."
That was when the inner fire began to burn within Elizabeth. That's when God's purpose began to take hold. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, she began to study about the problems in America's schools.
She hungrily read through books and documents in order to find out what had happened since the Supreme Court had tried to separate God from the educational system.
"I discovered that since 1963, when the Bible was removed from public schools, the United States has become the world's leader in violent crime, divorce, illegal drug use and illiteracy," Elizabeth recalled. "After the Bible was removed from public schools, SAT scores dropped for 19 consecutive years."
It made sense that those scores would drop when Elizabeth considered that the Bible was the foundation and blueprint for the Constitution. How could a student understand one without the other? The Bible was the foundation for the Declaration of Independence. The Bible was the foundation for this nation's educational system.
In fact, the Bible was the foundation of the nation's entire history - until the last 30 years. Without a basic understanding of the Bible and its role in our society, students are academically handicapped.
What can we do? Elizabeth wondered. The Supreme Court had kicked the Bible out of school, hadn't they?"
I met a missionary who told me that there was a woman who'd been teaching the Bible in a public school here in North Carolina for 23 years," Elizabeth recalled. "I was stunned. How had she done it? And if she could do it, why couldn't the Bible be taught in other schools?"
An idea took root in Elizabeth's heart. Was it possible to get the Bible back into public schools?
That's what I've called you to do.
Me? she gasped. Could God use her to help get the Bible back?
"I decided to meet with the school teacher who's taught the Bible successfully for so long. She told me that, according to the law, the Bible course curriculum must me concerned with education rather than indoctrination of students."
Elizabeth decided to find out exactly what the law said about the Bible in public schools. Her quest for information took her to the American Center for Law and Justice, the National Legal Foundation, and the American Family Association Law Center.
What she discovered was the deception that the Bible is forbidden in public schools. That was clearly not the decision of the Supreme Court.
In the landmark ruling of School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225 (1963), the court held the "it certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicated that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may be effected consistently with the First Amendment."
In the ruling of Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 42 (1980), the Supreme Court stated that, "the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like."
And, in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District, 619 F.2d 1311, 1314 (8th Cir, 1980), the court found that permitting public school observances which include religious element promotes the secular purpose of "advancing the student's knowledge and appreciation for the role that our religious heritage has played in the social, cultural and historical development of civilization."
In at least two other cases, Elizabeth found that the high court ruled favorably where using the Bible in public school was concerned. It was clear that the Supreme Court had never kicked the Bible out of our public schools, but that, in 1963, Christians across America had swallowed a lie that declared that the Bible could no longer be used as a text in public schools.
Elizabeth began gathering information and printing brochures and booklets on the subject. She also formed a nonprofit group called the North Carolina Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools.
"I knew that the Christian community stood silently by when the Bible left our school system in 1963," Elizabeth said. " The only way to approach the problem was to get the message of truth out to the public and pray that this time Christians would use their voices.
"I sent the information I'd gathered out over radio, television and the print media. The response was overwhelming. But I wasn't just hearing from North Carolina. I was hearing from the nation! After only two months, I rechartered as a national nonprofit organization."
Elizabeth also established an advisory committee for the council, which included 30 legislators and attorneys from around the country who shared her desire to see the Bible taught again in public schools.
"A mother in Winston-Salem, N.C., read the literature and phoned me. She wanted to lead the way in her school district. She went before the school board proposing that the Bible be offered as an elective in their eight high schools. It would be taught as history and literature. The first semester would cover the Old Testament, and the second semester would cover the life of Christ.
"The woman arrived with a briefcase full of information. But once the school board understood the law, they voted in favor of the Bible curriculum unanimously," Elizabeth said. "Even more amazing, 500 students signed up to take the course!"
After Winston-Salem, Elizabeth began working 14-hour days to keep pace with all the requests for help and information.
Although the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools doesn't seek out schools and attempt to implement the curriculum, they do provide documentation, materials and support for any parent who want to introduce this to their school boards.
To date 71 school districts in 26 states have approved and implemented the Bible curriculum, Elizabeth said. Ninety percent of those boards voted unanimously in favor of returning the Bible to their schools.
"The response from teachers and students has been wonderful," Elizabeth said. "Students from every cross section of our culture have signed up for the course. Although the Bible is taught as history and literature, teachers report that the Bible has a positive effect on the character of students - even those who had previously been rebellious and those openly involved in the occult.
"The Bible curriculum is vital for everyone, even those whose children are home-schooled or in private schools. The children in public schools will be their neighbors, doctors, lawyers, coworkers and friends throughout the rest of their lives. What happens in the schools today will affect all of our society tomorrow."
Through lies and deception, the Bible was kicked out of public schools for 30 years. Elizabeth Ridenour has discovered the truth - that there is an antidote for what is plaguing our schools.
It's the Bible.
And it's back!
(To contact Elizabeth Ridenour for more information about getting the Bible back in your schools, write the National Council On Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, P.O.Box 9743, Greensboro, N.C. 27429, or call 1-336-272-3799.) Above article was taken from the September 1998 issue of the Believer's Voice of Victory.
So, here's the perplexing question :
Does the Biblical literacy project - a contextualized, nuanced and scholarly approach to teaching the Bible - serve as a political counterweight to Ridenour's approach or does it open the door for Ridenour's brand of what some would call Christian supremacy and Christian nationalism ?
What has generally been left out of the debate is this question :
Why do efforts to reintroduce the Bible into public neglect to cover other religions ? Surely surely cursory treatment of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and other great world religious traditions would be appropriate to mention - unless the agenda is to specifically promote the US as a Christian nation.
But, such was not the intention of those who wrote Constitution - who made no reference to God in that document. The intent was clear - that the US, at least at the federal level, was specifically secular.
Now, Ridenour would - at this point in my argument - no doubt rightly observe that the Bible was taught in many public schools until 3 decades ago. That is correct. But, there's a question of intent here : if the US is to succeed in the new and fast evolving world economy, it will not be on the basis either of Christian triumphalism or Christian nationalism - Americans will need to understand other cultures and - at base - to respect them. Such respect can only be based in knowledge, and it certainly cannot be founded upon a conviction, on the part of American Christians, that Christianity is the only legitimate relgious faith on Earth.
So, ultimately, the push for Biblical literacy comes freighted with a slew of questions : is the "Western cannon" of literature which - of course - was written with heavy reference to the Bible dead, static, and never to be updated ? Can other new, great writers - non Christians even - join the club ? And, given that Western culture has made tremendous strides in - essentially - the cultural colonization of the entire World, are all but Americans, English ( and UK writers ), and perhaps grudgingly, Germans, Spanish, Italians, French, Swedes, Swiss... on so on allowed into the cannon ? And, are Russians barred ? Well of course not ! - the Russian contribution cannot be denied. Well, what of Japanese contributions ? Japan "westernized" quite early. Are Japanese writers banned ? That would seem inappropriate. Well, What of South Africans, Africans under British colonialism, Poles, Ukrainians, Norwegians.... Vietnamese.... it never stops. The "West" now, in effect, is the entire Globe, and "The Cannon" must rightfully allow most, even all of the world's writers, now, in the door. Or, some would say, it risks fossilization.
If the success of Western European civilization was Enlightenment-driven, Elizabeth Ridenour and her allies may risk guarding a hollowed out, dying tradition if, indeed, it was the questioning spirit of the Enlightenment, and its expansionistic energy and zeal for exploring the far reaches of knowledge and geography that - in the end - infused the Western tradition, since the Enlightenment, with such astounding vitality. Why can't Western culture continue to flourish - as it has for centuries now - on the basis of its syncretic tendencies ? Is American cultural vitality best restored by backward-looking and cultural chauvinistic ideology ? Are American reason and faith too fragile for exposure to other cultural influences and sensibilities ?
And, do even such well meaning efforts as the Biblical literacy project serve to turn the American gaze even further inward towards imagined cultural glories of the past and not outward towards the problems and challenges of the World beyond American shores ? For Elizabeth Ridenour, The Council On National Policy, and The National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools, the answer is surely no for the simple, iron dictum that all truth is to be found in the Bible and all all human material and civilizational advance is yoked to Biblical literacy.
correction: when I first posted this piece, I incorrectly associated Elizabeth Ridenour with The Biblical Literacy Project. Actually, that group's curriculum is a rather scrupulous effort which has won accolades from a wide range of Biblical scholars. Here is the BLP's stance on legislative efforts to introduce the Bible ( or Biblical literacy courses ) into public schools :
The Bible Literacy Project has not initiated recent legislative proposals that would designate our curriculum as a state-approved elective. However, we are appreciative of the confidence placed in our student textbook that these initiatives indicate.
The Bible Literacy Project is a non-partisan movement. We encourage and seek broad-based support for our efforts to facilitate academic study of the Bible in public schools. Because an academic course on the Bible, unlike other courses, involves constitutional issues, some state legislators have deemed it appropriate to become engaged in these decisions. The Bible Literacy Project is confident that we have created a course that is constitutionally sound, fair to all Biblically-based traditions, and of the highest scholarship.
Adoption of our course and teacher training will offer rigorous education and legal protection at the state and local level. We hope that any legislation considered by states will offer state funding for all curricula that meet the consensus guidelines of “The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide” – the 1999 agreement between 21 organizations that summarizes the court-defined requirements for academic study of the Bible in public schools