AS an organization of atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s members view the Bible as, basically, just another book. Yet their threat to sue some Oklahoma schools that have allowed Bibles to be donated to fifth-graders suggests the foundation’s members believe the Bible is far more powerful than their “freethinker” rhetoric suggests.
The influence of the Bible has played an important role in major societal movements, including the abolition of slavery and the civil rights struggle.
The foundation is upset that up to 26 Oklahoma schools have allowed officials with Gideons International to donate Bibles to fifth-grade students. A spokesman for the Freedom From Religion Foundation says this violates church-state separation. Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the Wisconsin-based organization, argues that groups like the foundation should also be able to donate atheist literature to children, and groups like the Satanic Temple should have the same right.
But those groups can donate materials to schools today. Whether kids will want a copy is another matter, of course, which may be what upsets the foundation more than anything.
The simple fact is that private entities donate books to schools and students all the time. The foundation’s lawsuit threat implies that schools should censor those materials based on their potential to be sources of spiritual guidance.
Notably, there’s been no suggestion that actual proselytizing occurred when the Bibles were donated. If it had, the foundation might have a point. But no one is forcing kids to accept, read or believe a word in the Bible. The children have merely been provided a copy of the Bible. What they do with the book is up to them.
Can other religious groups donate copies of their sacred texts to students? Sure. If someone wants to donate copies of the Book of Mormon or the Quran to schools, they can undoubtedly do so in the same fashion as the Gideons. In fact, it’s likely that many school libraries already include those books. And the Bible. And even “new atheist” books by the likes of Richard Dawkins.
Yet even if one rejects the Bible as an authoritative source of religious instruction, the Bible has had enormous influence on society. Consider all the common phrases associated with the King James Bible — “apple of his eye,” “blind leading the blind,” “good Samaritan,” “handwriting on the wall,” “out of the mouths of babes,” “signs of the times,” “straight and narrow,” and on and on.
The Bible has influenced the structure of the legal code in the United States and elsewhere. The influence of the Bible has played an important role in major societal movements, including the abolition of slavery and the civil rights struggle. (Just check out Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham, Ala., jail.)
The Freedom From Religion Foundation may want to equate the Bible with materials produced by the Satanic Temple, but there’s clearly no comparison when it comes to widespread cultural influence. As noted above, having access to a Bible can help children understand the context of many of MLK’s speeches. It can help them understand the origination of many expressions. It can inform their understanding of numerous works of fiction, both books and film, that have borrowed themes from the Bible.
Those are all good things that can come from reading a Bible. Just because some children might also voluntarily find a source of moral guidance does not warrant any effort to impede their understanding of our surprisingly biblically influenced culture.