Local News

Reading, Writing, Religion? The Bible Goes Public in Some N.C. Classrooms

Posted February 13, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST

— Walk into 62 classrooms in theNorth Carolina public school systemand you will find a class on religion. It is an elective that teaches history without evangelizing.

The students who take these classes are discovering something adults have known for a long time -- that the study of religion yields a lot of gray. It is never black or white.

"It's a picture of history's future, history that hasn't happened yet," says teacher Robert Escamilla of the Bible.

These days, religion is not only discussed and taught in churches, you will also find the Bible as a textbook in the classrooms of public schools.

Raleigh'sEnloe High Schoolis a public school where the Bible is a textbook. Like all history books, this one is open to interpretation.

"Because a lot of that is more narrative than we often realize," teacher Robert Escamilla tells his class.

Escamilla's class is an elective: the Bible in history, not the Bible as history.

Escamilla also teaches social studies, history and world religions. He is a Christian who qualifies what he teaches.

"The other history books I use in my class, I oftentimes use the word presumably because even those history books are not what most of us often think history is supposed to be. Shall I say the gospel truth?"

TheAmerican Civil Liberties Unionpays close attention. The issue is notwhatis being taught, buthowit is taught.

"[It's] absolutely permissible," says Deborah Ross of the ACLU. "What is allowed in the school is teaching children about religion, and about different religions. What different people believe, and why they believe it."

"I think religion is very important in today's society," says student Sarah Hobbs, who is a Christian.

Classmate Anna Rosch is Jewish.

"I think I've learned a lot about what other people believe, even though I don't necessarily agree with them. I have a greater understanding as to why they feel that way," she says.

The classroom is not being used to impose morality, but moral messages are there. They are colorful messages in contrast with the black and white images of hate and violence these students have seen in the past couple of years.

"I think that definitely helps us understand our peers in society and the people around us. Maybe [it] gives us a little more respect for it so maybe these horrible, violent things happening in our schools today maybe wouldn't happen," says Hobbs.

These classes became part of the state curriculum in 1992. Twenty-seven school systems offer the 62 religious studies classes.