The average American can’t answer basic questions about world religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, which prompted renewed calls for religious study in public schools. In many states, however, that education already exists. The overall numbers are still small, with about 10 percent of schools featuring academic courses in religion, usually focused on the Bible. But the last five years have seen the first major expansion in decades. More than 40 states have districts that teach academic Bible study; five of them have passed laws to encourage it, offering, in some cases, curricula guidelines or public funds.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this expansion (and its seeming lack of controversy) is The Bible and Its Influence, a 2005 textbook by the Bible Literacy Project. Only devotional Bible study is prohibited in public schools, but secular alternatives have run afoul of civil libertarians. This textbook, by contrast, took pre-publication input from across the political and religious spectrum, which has helped it avoid legal jeopardy, despite being the first of its kind in 30 years. Texas has more than 100 schools using it, including districts with more than 20,000 students apiece. Now the project is offering it for free in the holdout states—a move that, for the first time in generations, could bring the Bible back to classrooms nationwide.