Thomas Jefferson on Reading the Bible in Schools

Recently, David Barton spoke at a Baptist Church and in his speech he talked about Abington Township vs. Schempp. He said the Supreme Court got it wrong, in part, because they relied on testimony of Dr. Grayzel who said kids would be psychologically damaged by Bible reading (about 15 minutes into part one).

Of course, the case is more complicated than that.

This post however is not to further debunk Barton on his statements about the Supreme Court ruling. Others have done that (Grayzel was referring to psychological harm to Jewish children). I must say, however, that there is a load of material in that sermon to the Glen Meadows Baptist Church.

Barton quoted Benjamin Rush and Fisher Ames (I am working on his claims about Ames) but there was a familiar founder he left out. Thomas Jefferson said in his Notes on the State of Virginia that school children should study history instead of the Bible. Even though he was an “Anglican gentleman” at the time, Jefferson gave advice contrary to some of his peers and apparently to what Barton wants to see happen.

Jefferson wrote:

Instead therefore of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history.

Obviously, this has little to do with what we do now, but it occurred to me after I saw the posts on Grayzel’s testimony.

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  • ken

    I LOVE this quote by Ellery Schemp (the main plaintiff in the case) about Barton’s “interpretation” :

    Barton rakes in millions, has the moral compass of a cockroach, and wants us to believe he has God’s direct email address.

    I never thought the Genesis story made any sense, and I didn’t use to believe in talking snakes — but then Glenn Beck and David Barton came along.

  • James Ferguson

    Maybe Barton should focus on the Bible being read in Sunday School, but then I guess he feels he has a captive audience in schools.

  • Zoe Brain

    Judges 19′s always a good one to read to kids.

  • Patrocles

    Historically, different religions tended to have their pecuiiar schools – a system which worked well for the Mennonite or Catholic minority, and even for the Jewish Orthodox.

    Evangelicals, unhappily, weren’t strong enough to build up a non-state-system of schools – with the result that Jewish mainstream activists could take their schools away to neutralize them. A sad story.

    Are there any reports about the research Dr. Grayzel maintains to have done? (I mean, of course, reading the New Testament is not ALWAYS bad for Jewish children; if it was, how could there be Jewish convertites to Christianity?)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      Patrocles said – Evangelicals, unhappily, weren’t strong enough to build up a non-state-system of schools – with the result that Jewish mainstream activists could take their schools away to neutralize them.

      I cannot speak for a Jewish person but I believe this is a very offensive remark. I can’t tell for sure if you have anti-Semitic attitudes but to speak of one group of Americans taking away the schools from another group is divisive and race-baiting to me. The schools didn’t and don’t belong to Christians. This is the point of the ruling – the schools belong to people of all religions, thus schools should not favor one religion over another.

  • Scotty G.

    Better then having compulsory Bible reading, here’s a novel idea; how bout skipping that latest soccer match or ‘reality’ TV and have some family Bible reading around the table. Much more insightful and has the added benefit of being a bonding experience.

  • James Ferguson

    Why not go back to the Spanish inquisition, Patrocles? Do we really need to discuss religion in the classrooms? It is bad enough in the forums. As Jefferson said, better to teach the classics.

  • ken

    Patrocles says:

    March 5, 2013 at 9:46 am

    “Are there any reports about the research Dr. Grayzel maintains to have done?”

    If you had actually followed the links Warren posted you would have seen that Grayzel’s testimony was based on “his specific experience with children” not research. Further that depending on which passages were read, could lead to stigmatization and possibly bullying of jewish children.

  • Emily K

    So which verses from the “New Testament” should we read to Jewish kids first? John 8, or just good ol’ Matthew 27:25? Darn, if we weren’t so perfidious, we’d all convert to xtianity and none of these problems would even exist! Warren, thanks for your response.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Are there any reports about the research Dr. Grayzel maintains to have done?

    As you see, Patrocles, if it weren’t for double standards, we wouldn’t have none atall.

  • Patrocles

    For the record: Dr. Grayzel thought, Jewish kids would have to suffer from the “Good Samaritan” story – the praise of Samaritans being implicitly anti-jewish.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      He didn’t say they would have to suffer, he said he had seen it in his work. However, the court did not decide the case based on Grayzel’s fears. His testimony added to the idea that the Bible in and of itself is a sectarian book. I wish people could put themselves in the position of a minority for a change and see how it is to experience equal treatment under the law that isn’t really equal treatment.

      As a Christian, if I lived in a country that read another holy book as the truth in my school, especially one which stigmatized my beliefs, I would probably be glad for a ruling that prohibited privilege for the dominant religion.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

        PS – Let me add, echoing James Madison, if my religion needs the help of the state to remain dominant, then my religion isn’t very potent or valuable.

  • Teresa

    Patrocles said:

    Evangelicals, unhappily, weren’t strong enough to build up a non-state-system of schools …

    Now, this is an interesting statement. Considering all the words, printed or spoken, about how this nation was founded on Christianity, why weren’t those Evangelicals strong enough to found their own non-state-system of schools? What stopped them? The Catholics did a fine job of creating their own school system. But, wait, I forgot they weren’t considered Christian at the time by the Evangelicals (maybe to this day). They were the Whore of Babylon, anti-Christ … so much so, they had some of their convents and schools torched.

    Gotta love that old time religion.

  • Dave

    @ Patrocles .. Your statement that “Evangelicals, unhappily, weren’t strong enough to build up a non-state-system of schools – with the result that Jewish mainstream activists could take their schools away to neutralize them. A sad story.” would be funny if it weren’t so clueless. I have met with folks of multiple faith traditions in an organization called “Interfaith Alliance” and heard first hand what it is like to be Jewish in the public school system. While I think I will skip the spin of psychologyical harm .. the Jewish folks certainly did not see their holidays honored on the school calendar or in school .. holidays such as Rosh Hoshanna, Yom Kippur, and Hannukkah to name a few. It was only the Christian ones that were honored. And it was only the Christian bible that was read. We could go on to talk about Bacculerate .. Christmas programs .. and other things that were/are specifically Christian and not Jewish. It makes our claims of a Judeo-Christian heritage rather hollow since Christian holidays and Christians scriptures dominated the scene. Hearing all of this opened my eyes to the reality of what it is like to be a minority and all the things that those in the majority take for granted and/or don’t even think of.

    Dave

  • Scotty G.

    Warren,

    “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

    Is this the quote to which you refer? I believe it is a very apt statement. However, I had always understood it to be attributed to Benjamin Franklin, though I’ve never done any hunting to confirm that.

    I appreciate your statement about mentally putting oneself in the position of a minority. This echoes Christ’s prescription: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” – Matthew 5:41

    Too often people rail against even walking the first mile much less graciously walking the second mile.

    I know some have an aversion to ‘beatitudeism’, seeming to think such behavior only applies in certain situations. But biblically, there are no qualifications.

    My upbringing in missionary work somewhat put me in the position of being in the majority; at least in the social circles I inhabited. It wasn’t until my later teens that I began to realize that I had an attribute that put me in the minority. It took me years to reconcile my faith with my orientation. Having now found peace, I now have the tools to better empathize with other minorities. While I can’t say I accept everything that is placed before me, I nevertheless feel compelled to at least endeavor to understand their point of view. If nothing else it helps me to speak to them in terms that they understand rather then ignorant remarks that they would see as condescending. I have no desire to be so oblivious to their needs as they see them.

    This obviously is not a universal experience. I believe being in a minority can humble you, or you can rail against it and become an oppressor yourself. (see Westboro Baptist) And like the parable of the servant who was forgiven much but would not forgive little; we are daily given the choice to love others, even our social and political advisories the same way Christ loved use even while we continually rebel against Him.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

    It was Franklin.

    Link.

    However, the context was the official establishment and finance of state churches. But context is only strictly scrutinized when it’s Barton, it seems.

    As for Biblical literacy, after seeing it so poorly cited and quoted by the products of our edu-industrial complex, the Bible as part of a necessary cultural literacy is wanting.

    As for Grayzel’s “fears,”

    He didn’t say they would have to suffer, he said he had seen it in his work. However, the court did not decide the case based on Grayzel’s fears.

    as Warren well knows, data is not the plural of anecdote. Neither do I necessarily believe that he saw any harm, sorry.

    As for who and what “Samaritans” were, and the true meaning of Jesus’ use of them, it’s an interesting story that a little Biblical literacy would clear up.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritans

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    March 7, 2013 at 1:55 am

    “However, the context was the official establishment and finance of state churches. But context is only strictly scrutinized when it’s Barton, it seems.”

    No, it is scrutinized with it is necessary to understand the meaning of a given quote. The quote cited was pretty self-explanatory. And I’ve seen no one on this thread using it out of context.

    “as Warren well knows, data is not the plural of anecdote.”

    Grayzel’s anecdoteS were proof of existence. I’ve seen nothing that shows he was trying assert how many (or what percentage) of jewish children were being harmed. Merely that he had seen some that where harmed by christian biblical instruction in public schools.

    “Neither do I necessarily believe that he saw any harm, sorry.”

    And what exactly to you base your belief that Grayzel committed perjury on what exactly? Had you even heard of Grayzel before Warren posted this thread?

  • Boo

    Tom bases it on what he wants to believe. This should be screamingly obvious by now.

  • Zoe Brain

    Scotty G.

    I believe being in a minority can humble you, or you can rail against it and become an oppressor yourself.

    Going from a social position of cisgendered male to transsexual female was the best thing that could have happened to me, and not just for my own personal comfort.

    Being demoted from 1st class citizen to 3rd class was most educational, in a moral sense. Definitely worth the 17 times increased risk of being murdered, the various legal persecutions etc.

    It wasn’t that I was that bad a person before. Priggish yes, but I still am. What would be called “square” when I was young., that hasn’t changed.

    My attitude towards “the dregs of society” has. Some of them are far better people than many in exalted social circles. All are merely human. Having shared some of the same beliefs of those who now scorn and revile me, I can see that they’re not bad people either. Misinformed, mainly, or not informed at all.


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