Cape district: Bible best taught at home or church

Teachers concerned with pressures of teaching such a class
Cape Henlopen Director of Curriculum and Instruction Michael Kelley says a high school leadership team does not support adding a Bible Literacy course to the curriculum. BY MELISSA STEELE
July 5, 2013

Teaching the Bible, even in a historical context, is a class best saved for Sunday school and not Cape Henlopen High School, says the district's director of curriculum.

Michael C. Kelley, director of curriculum and instruction, said he met with a leadership team in May made up of high school administrators, teachers, department chairs and a teacher union representative to discuss bringing a Bible Literacy course to the high school.

"It is my recommendation that we do not open the doors of our high school to the potential controversy that could stem from a course on the Bible, no matter how well intentioned," Kelley said during a presentation to the school board June 27.

The group discussed adding an elective course on the Bible after school board members suggested it would be a good addition to the high school curriculum. Last spring, board Vice President Spencer Brittingham and board members Sandi Minard and Jen Burton brought the idea of a Bible class back with them after attending a national school board meeting in San Diego. The Bible's far-reaching influence on art, literature and history was the impetus behind bringing the elective to Cape, they said during an earlier meeting.

Historical relevance aside, it appears no teacher is interested in teaching it.

"Concern was expressed for the teacher who would hypothetically teach the course – whether voluntarily or by assignment – and the undue pressure that could accompany the course – pressure stemming from the teacher's own beliefs as well as from the beliefs of others," Kelley said.

Teachers also were worried about similar pressure they could receive if they taught a comprehensive world religion class because of the degree of expertise they would need across several religions, he said.

The group agreed that Cape High's current curriculum includes plenty of opportunities to study religion: A unit on world religions in a world history course; biblical allusions and religious contexts of literature used in "The Crucible"; and the use of excerpts from the King James Bible and the works of John Donne and John Milton as significant cultural and literary events of the early 17th century.

"So it's not that our students have no interaction with the Bible as a historically and culturally relevant and influential text," Kelley said.

In its monumental decision on separation of church and state, the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruled reading a Bible in public schools is unconstitutional; however, Kelley said, the court noted the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities.

Still, Kelley said, the high school leadership group is reluctant to support a Bible literacy class.

"Their consensus was that the in-depth study of the Bible or Bible literacy is best handled at home or at church, where the study does not have to be artificially contrived to be devoid of belief," he said. "Leaders of our local churches would be delighted to open their doors to high school students wishing to learn more about the Bible. Indeed, I'm confident that I can speak for those church leaders and say that those doors are already open."

There was no further discussion of the matter at the June 27 board meeting and no public comment on the proposed Bible class.

Cape Henlopen Superintendent Robert Fulton said he believes discussion on the Bible Literacy class will continue at a future board meeting, although he agrees with the staff's recommendation.

"They determined that it's not a course the high school needs to have," he said.