Use of the Bible in American schools has been challenged as a violation of the First Amendment for decades; others have challenged the teaching of it as literature when they believed that it should be taught only as a sacred text- the “word of God” as they interpret it. Even the mere presence of the Bible in schools has been widely challenged. In a notable 1989 case, an elementary school student in Omaha, Nebraska, was forbidden to read or carry the Bible on school grounds.
Some cases have been based on its containing indecent material. In 1992 it was challenged in Brooklyn, New York, on the grounds that “the lewd, indecent, and violent contents of that book are hardly suitable for young children.” A 1993 challenge in Fairbanks, Alaska, branded the Bible “obscene and pornographic,” and a Pennsylvania case cited “more than 300 examples of obscenities” and “language and stories that are inappropriate for children of any age.”
While there are several incidents of the Bible being officially banned by governments around the world, including the former Soviet Union (from 1926-1957), China, and the Middle East; as a matter of law, it is not true that The Bible, or any religious text for that matter, is banned from all U.S. public schools by decree of federal law.
Students can, and do, still read it during free periods. In fact, it is actually allowed to be taught in public schools for the sake of their understanding in regards to literature and art, but it may not be taught with regards to its religious merits. All religions are fair use for literary and historical lessons, but teachers must remain as objective as possible in its presentation.
The idea that Bibles are banned completely in all public schools is a misunderstanding of two Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963. As the country became more culturally diverse, minority school children were being forced to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which contains the Christian-based “Under God” passage, and to participate in other Christian-centered activities. In order to address the hazing, and often bloody confrontations that resulted from minorities’ refusal to participate, the Supreme Court ruled that the Pledge be removed from morning activities due to its promoting of a singular religious preference.
Propagandists are also using a case of Canadian law to spread fear in the U.S., but the argument is without value since Canadian law has no bearing on U.S. law.
In a December, 2001 decision by a Saskatchewan court of appeals, The Bible is considered hate literature if it is quoted verbatim in public settings and its context used to condemn homosexuality as sin.
In the course of conversations regarding last week’s article, an interesting point was raised- the idea of contextual censorship- banning or censoring of a work as a whole because it contains a few words or passages that, taken out of context, might be offensive to some readers.
Much like the recent literary debate over Mark Twain classics being re-written to replace period-specific terms and imagery with modern phrases, The New American Bible is being censored to remove language with “out-dated connotations.”
The Bible has long been subject to censorship under the guise of “translation” and “interpretation” since it was first edited together into a single work.
During the Middle Ages, translating the Bible from Latin was forbidden because translations could distort the official Latin version- itself, a translation. A late-fourteenth-century decree provided for excommunicating those who translated- or read a translation of- the Bible without permission.
In the sixteenth century, reformers believed that every Christian had the right to study the Bible, prompting colloquial translations across Europe. William Tyndale\’s version was popular- and banned. Copies were smuggled into England, where officials burned any recovered copies. Convicted of heresy, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake, using copies of his own Bible to stoke the flames. Much of his translation, ironically, would become what we know today as the King James Bible.
The version that might truly have worried the faithful was the 1631 Bible published by R. Barker, whose inadvertent omission of “not” in the seventh commandment caused it to be popularly known as the “wicked Bible.”
Shocked by hedonistic parables, Victorians in England and the United States avidly censored the Bible to revise indecent passages and remove inappropriate behavior; Noah Webster even published his own sanitized version in 1833.
Proponents of The New American Bible feel the current terminology might otherwise draw laughter from younger readers, who would equate their own modern slang definitions for the words in question. Therefore, the words are to be replaced with more “appropriate” ones. A soldier’s booty will now be spoils of war, and virgin will now be young woman.
So the Bible undergoes yet another politically-correct revision; further removing itself from the original language of its varied books, all in the name of modernization and appropriateness. The effectiveness of censoring the Bible is doubtful, as it remains one of the best-selling books in history not just for its impact on literature, but for its deeply personal associations.
So it may be that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God; but in the end even God has to endure editors.
Sources: Reader’s Digest, Yahoo News
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions