Hollywood Makes the Case for Teaching the Bible in Public School


The following essay was penned for The Wall Street Journal by our friends, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett.

As a friend of mine wrote on Facebook this morning, “All thoughtful, no thumping.”

But what do you think?


Why Public Schools Should Teach the Bible

Westerners cannot be considered literate without a basic knowledge of this foundational text.


The Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2013

Have you ever sensed in your own life that “the handwriting was on the wall”? Or encouraged a loved one to walk “the straight and narrow”?

Have you ever laughed at something that came “out of the mouths of babes”? Or gone “the extra mile” for an opportunity that might vanish “in the twinkling of an eye”?

If you have, then you’ve been thinking of the Bible.

These phrases are just “a drop in the bucket” (another biblical phrase) of the many things we say and do every day that have their origins in the most read, most influential book of all time. The Bible has affected the world for centuries in innumerable ways, including art, literature, philosophy, government, philanthropy, education, social justice and humanitarianism. One would think that a text of such significance would be taught regularly in schools. Not so. That is because of the “stumbling block” (the Bible again) that is posed by the powers that be in America.

It’s time to change that, for the sake of the nation’s children. It’s time to encourage, perhaps even mandate, the teaching of the Bible in public schools as a primary document of Western civilization.

We know firsthand of its educational value, having grown up in Europe—Mark in England, Roma in Ireland—where Bible teaching was viewed as foundational to a well-rounded education. Now that we are naturalized U.S. citizens, we want to encourage public schools in America to give young people the same opportunity.

This is one of the reasons we created “The Bible,” a 10-part miniseries premiering March 3 on the History Channel that dramatizes key stories from Scriptures. It will encourage audiences around the world to open or reopen Bibles to understand and enjoy these stories.

Without the Bible, Shakespeare would read differently—there are more than 1,200 references to Scripture in his works. Without the Bible, there would be no Sistine Chapel and none of the biblically inspired masterpieces that hang in countless museums world-wide.

In movies, without biblical allegories, there would be no “Les Misérables,” no “Star Wars,” no “Matrix,” no “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, no “Narnia” and no “Ben-Hur.” There would be no Alcoholics Anonymous, Salvation Army or Harvard University—all of which found their roots in Scripture. And really, what would Bono sing about if there were no Bible?

Teaching the Bible is of course a touchy subject. One can’t broach it without someone barking “separation of church and state” and “forcing religion down my throat.”

Yet the Supreme Court has said it’s perfectly OK for schools to do so, ruling in 1963 (Abington School District v. Schempp) that “the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as a part of a secular (public school) program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

The Supreme Court understood that we’re not talking about religion here, and certainly not about politics. We’re talking about knowledge. The foundations of knowledge of the ancient world—which informs the understanding of the modern world—are biblical in origin. Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president known more as a cigar-chomping Rough Rider than a hymn-signing Bible-thumper, once said: “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.

Can you imagine students not reading the Constitution in a U.S. government class? School administrators not sharing the periodic table of the elements with their science classes? A driver’s ed course that expected young men and women to pass written and road tests without having access to a booklet enumerating the rules of the road?

It would be the same thing, we believe, to deny America’s sons and daughters the benefits of an education that includes a study of the Bible. Although we are both Christians, the list is long of ardent atheists who appreciate the Bible’s educational heft while rejecting its spiritual claims. It is possible to have education without indoctrination. On this point, believers and nonbelievers should be able to “see eye to eye.” (More Bible goodness.)

Interestingly enough, the common desktop reference guide “The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy” best sums up the Bible’s value as a tool of cultural literacy. Its first page declares: “No one in the English speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible.”

Can we hear an amen?

Ms. Downey is an actress best known for her role in the TV series “Touched by an Angel.” Mr. Burnett is the producer of several TV shows, including “Survivor” and “The Voice.”

A version of this article appeared March 1, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Why Public Schools Should Teach the Bible.


Sign up for my weekly e-newsletter

Leave a Comment

phred phlinstone More than 1 year ago

I was attending a public university at that time in the 80s as a Philosophy major. We studied the Bible at lot and in pretty good detail and the Christians hated it. To a Christian, treating the Bible as just literature or as just another philosophy is an offense.

Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago

I remember as a public school sophomore in '85-'86, we had a unit in language arts that used a textbook called Bible As/In Literature. As a recent escapee from a Christian elementary school. I did not have to do much reading or studying to get a good grade on that unit. That being said, I'm always a bit suspicious when Fundamentalists are pushing something like this. If it's for educational rather than religious purposes, why do they want it so badly?

Norma Brown More than 1 year ago

I looked forward to this series, The Bible, by Romy Downey and Mark Burnett.  I watched the first hour of it and then turned it off.  I can't believe there were pastors and other consultants on the set that would approve of this first installment.  There were so many glaring biblical errors I stopped writing them down.  Did anyone use a bible when scripting this series?  I understand everything couldn't be included, but some oversights, in being politically correct, were shameful.  A grave disservice was given to the viewing audience.  But perhaps some good will come from this.  I truly hope people will indeed pull out their bibles and search the scriptures for themselves.  Some of the things I saw in the first installment, they will not find in the Bible.  A lot of license was taken in this first installment.  I don't know the content of the hearts of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett.  I'm sure they meant well, but their finished product left me very sad for those that might have viewed it and came away with ideas and teachings that were not biblical.  What an opportunity to address biblical issues head on, no matter how sensitive or politically incorrect.  What an impact this series could have had no society as a whole.  If this series had been true to the Bible, I can tell you this, there would be a lot of buzz this morning.  But the safe route was taken and in so doing who knows what "could have been."  Was it a wasted effort?  God can use even this effort for His purposes and plans!

Susan Goodell More than 1 year ago

The bible is literature.  It is also so much more.  However, studying it is the only way to find out what it means to you personally.  How can we make an informed decision about it's validity without reading it?  As a public high school student, I did take an English class called "The Bible as Literature".  No controversy, no preaching, just a book by book study of the Bible as literature.  Knowledge is the precursor of wisdom.  The Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths all have their beginnings in the old testament scriptures.  Our country was based on the principles of the bible.  Why would we want to be ignorant about something that has such a huge impact on our lives?  Why would we want to get bits and pieces, taken out of context, from others instead of having a firm foundation and understanding of the totality of it for ourselves?

phred phlinstone More than 1 year ago

This is a colossal bad idea. 1) This is the government that doesn't seem to be able to get anything right and you want them to tell us what the Bible says? 2) Treating the Bible as literature means treating it as no more true than the Bhagavad Gita or the Koran. And that's going to really offend all us Christians. 3) So much so that everywhere that this has been tried the Christian teachers end up teaching the Bible as more true than other religion's sacred texts and that get's the Christian teachers in trouble with the law. 3) There are certain parts of the Bible that we really don't want to be teaching young people, that slavery is good, that sexually active and unmarried women( just the women) should be killed by their fathers, that eating shrimp is bad.

Hyprdrv Hyprdrv More than 1 year ago

very cool.