The Debate: Should every state school own a King James Bible?

May 30, 2012, 10:32 AM GMT+0

Do you support or oppose Michael Gove’s decision to send a King James Bible to state schools? We opened up the debate last week

By the end of May, every state school in England will own a free copy of the King James Bible. The 17th Century text will come courtesy of Education Secretary Michael Gove, who launched the initiative to mark the text’s 400th anniversary.

The proposal is costing £375,000 to implement, a bill which is being footed by private donors (and not the taxpayer).

Mr Gove believes it is important for schoolchildren to learn about the impact the King James Bible has had on Britain’s “history, language, literature and democracy”, while secular groups have said religious texts have no place in state schools.

We invited you to tell us what you thought of the initiative. It turns out you were fairly evenly split on the issue, with strong opinions on both sides.

  • Participants who supported giving free bibles to state schools argued that it was important to teach pupils about all religions, and the King James Bible was a significant work of literature. Many of you also told us you would be just as happy for the Qur’an or Torah to be made available to students as well.
  • Others who were in favour of the initiative said that the UK is a Christian nation, and therefore the King James Bible is an important text for British students, to learn about their country’s heritage.
  • On the other side of the debate, participants who were opposed said that it was a waste of money that could be better spent on other things.
  • You also told us that religion should be kept out of state schools, and you saw the distribution of bibles as an infringement on this general principle.

On which side of the debate do you stand? Read the arguments from those both for and against Gove’s initiative:

FOR - Gove's bible initiative

Argument 1 - It’s important to teach about ALL religions, and the KJB is an important literary work

“Although I'm not a Christian, I think children should have access to holy books like the Bible so they can find out more about different religions. I think also information on other religions should be more widely available, including religions that are considered less mainstream such as pagan religions” Jay, Hartwell

The King James Bible is one of the most important texts in the English language. An immense number of the phrases and idioms, which we take for granted, but which have enriched the English language can be traced back to this bible … If the government insists on using it as a religious text, I think it should be given equal time with other religious texts of the main religions” Anon

Due to my belief in unbiased religious education, I believe every school should have a copy of the major religions' central texts which can be taught from, or referred to in religious education lessons. Children should be exposed to as many viewpoints as possible to assist them in structuring their own lives morally, spiritually, and in the physical sense Anon

People should be able to have open discussions about religious belief and learn about all the major religions and their differences and similarities. I would not be against every school having a copy of the scriptures of every major religion” Mick, Yorkshire

I think every school should have a copy of the Bible, but I believe a more modern translation would be more meaningful. The significance of the King James Bible is that it was the first time people could read the Bible in contemporary language, therefore a contemporary translation of the Bible would be very apt and (and easier to understand) in this instance” Wendy, Flore, Northampton

I support any plan which involves free books for schools Anon

Argument 2 - The bible is part of Britain’s heritage as a Christian nation

We live in a Christian country and the King James Bible is the standard text of the British Christian faith. We are extremely tolerant of other faiths, but all children educated in this country should learn primarily about the Christian faith and its tenets. Every state funded school should be required to have a Christian assembly at the beginning of every day. Putting King James bibles in schools is only a start” Linda, Leeds

“My children go to a Church of England school and I worry that as the curriculum stands it focuses so much on other religions that ours gets forgotten. Our school recently had a Church inspection and I raised this with them. They told me they do their best but the Ofsted rules regarding faiths means Christianity comes last” Anon

“We are classed as a Christian county and having a copy of the King James Bible would help to emphasise the history, ethos and principles of what makes the British, British. The welfare state was founded on Christian principles, access to health care and benefits system is based on need, not social status, race or wealth Anon

“This country is a Christian country and we have to make sure this is taught in all our schools. I live in Slough where we have Islamic schools and Sikh schools, which are dividing our community. I personally would prefer no faith schools at all, but as we are fighting a religious war in this country I believe we should show our faith as the strongest Carol L, Slough

Rightly or wrongly in this country we have an established church. That is the way that it is and if we do not want it we should vote it out. Whilst this state of affairs exists then the established religion should be part of the school curriculum and taught as such. This is impossible without a Bible being present” Len P, Worksop

AGAINST - Gove's bible initiative

Argument 1 - It’s a waste of money at a time of austerity

“If this is really what the Government thinks education needs they do not have a clue. Education and state schools need funding for textbooks and resources not one singular bible Lamb, Hartlepool

“Does Gove seriously think that state schools won't already have a copy of the Bible? A complete waste of moneyAnon

At a time of cutbacks, although the expenditure is relatively small, it hardly ranks as being of major importance. Secondly, I suspect a considerable proportion of secondary schools already have a copy. Thirdly, even if all schools receive one, there is no guarantee that the copy will be used to increase knowledge and understanding” Anon

I don't think anyone will read it, so it's a waste of money. I love the King James Bible as a piece of superb writing, but it needs to be part of an integrated course for students to value it. I think it would be good for all pupils of every age to hear it read aloud, not necessarily as part of religious instruction, but any school thinking of doing this would access one easily without Michael Gove spending money Gwen, Shrewsbury

Please spend any money available on helping children to be numerate and literate. Leave their religious education to their parents and the churchAnon

“The Gideons already perform this function. … As a serving teacher I have seen pupils in more than one school that I have worked in scavenging for food, off the floor and off other pupils. I am sure that if Jesus was around today he would want the money spent on providing a bible to be redirected to some of the schools in our most deprived areas. This is a political act, not a Christian act Alan Morgan, Blackpool

Argument 2 - Religion and school should be kept separate

“Schools should be for education, i.e. dealing with facts, not brain washing with religious superstition. Providing children with Charles Darwin's Origin of Species would be far more suitable and applicable to all. People are free to worship any kind of nonsense they like, but this should not be imposed and encouraged in our schools Shirl, Ringwood

“As a multicultural society, if a bible is to be sent to all state schools, there should also be copies of the Koran, Talmud, and other religious texts sent alongside. However, I would prefer that this was not done at all, as religion is in many ways the opposite of education Anon

It breaches a principle of secular government. Besides, he's only doing it to get self-publicity Anon

Christianity should not be rammed down throats of youngsters, particularly when Christians are currently preaching hatred towards homosexualsAnon

I do not believe it is the role of the state to promote one religion, especially to impressionable children and young adults. Also, I believe religion is a major cause of unrest and violence in the world and should not be encouraged or enjoy special privilegesSteve H, London

“I think it is important to educate British/English children about the historical impact the Bible has had on our culture and society from our governmental system to the English language. I must stress that it is very important that this it is taught as a historical document only, and not imposed as the one true religion. However, I ultimately oppose the plans as the Education Secretary seems to be trying to make a statement with this novelty gesture rather than encouraging any educational value Cameron, Driffield

On which side of the debate do you stand?

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