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The problem with teaching the bible in public schools

By James A. Haught

Image by Shutterstock

Around America, fundamentalist politicians often try to breach the separation of church and state by requiring public schools to teach about the bible. Such an attempt was made in my state of West Virginia this year, but it stalled in a legislative committee.

The fundamentalists don’t quite grasp what they’re doing. They don’t realize that classroom warfare might erupt over some of the bible’s hideous commandments. For example:

Exodus 31:15 decrees: “Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” Exodus 35:2 is almost identical.

Would teachers apply this mandate to police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, hospital aides, paramedics, snowplow drivers, power repair crews, bus drivers, airline crews, radio and television staffs, store clerks and others who must work on Sundays?

The 22nd chapter of Deuteronomy commands that brides who aren’t virgins must be taken to their fathers’ doorsteps and stoned to death. With millions of unwed American couples living together, will that decree apply to females among them?

Several verses instruct how to buy and sell slaves. Leviticus 25:44 says: “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.”

Which neighbor nations will be deemed appropriate sources of slaves?

Exodus 21:7 gives rules when “a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant.”

Leviticus 20:13 says gay males “shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (But lesbians aren’t mentioned.) Now that America approves same-sex marriage, what’s the effect of this commandment?

In 1 Samuel 15, God commands Hebrew soldiers to attack a neighbor tribe “and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Numbers 31 orders a similar massacre, with this exception: “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

Would these decrees apply to U.S. soldiers today?

1 Kings 11 says Solomon “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines.” What would teachers tell pupils about such biblical family values?

In the Great Commission (Mark 16), Jesus tells the apostles that “these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents.” Some mountain worshipers obey this command by picking up rattlesnakes. What would schools teach?

Actually, the bible — written in brutal, ignorant times — contains literally hundreds of grotesque verses decreeing cruel punishments for trivial offenses. It mandates death for many sexual encounters — and for doubting the bible’s version of religion.

As you can see, teaching the bible in public schools could open a floodgate for classroom arguments over these horrors. And it could open people’s eyes to the savagery in the “Good Book.”

James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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