Donald Trump, the man chosen by God to become president of the United States according to his spokeswoman, believes that public school students should be allowed to study the Bible.
And so do I!
"Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible," Trump tweeted. "Starting to make a turn back? Great!"
Biblical literacy -- familiarity with the major characters and stories in what is far and away the most important book in Western civilization -- is vital to a well-rounded education. The text has influenced language, history, the arts, law and customs, and animates many social disputes.
The public schools I attended, perhaps out of an abundance of caution, touched only lightly on the Old and New Testaments in the humanities and literature classes I took. And since I don't come from a churchgoing family, I've had to play catch-up ever since.
The timing of Trump's tweet suggested he was reacting to a "Fox & Friends" segment amplifying a recent USA Today report about legislation introduced in six states to "require or encourage public schools to offer elective classes on the Bible's literary and historical significance."
Turns out there's little legal risk in doing so. In the 1963 case Abington Township School District v. Schempp, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the idea of daily devotional Bible readings in public schools but openly embraced the idea of scholarly Bible readings.
"One's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization," wrote Justice Tom Clark for an 8-1 majority. "It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."
The decision highlighted the line between Bible study and study of the Bible.
Bible study is an examination of scripture to glean spiritual and moral truths. Given the various ways that various faith traditions interpret and emphasize the chapters and verses, it's best fit for a church setting.
Study of the Bible is an interrogation of the accounts to glean cultural insights. Given the skeptical rigor of academic inquiry, it's well suited for a classroom setting.
Problem is, the advocates behind these biblical-literacy bills championed by Trump, are openly trying to blur that line.
"Project Blitz," which promotes model legislation in this and similar areas, is an initiative of the religious right -- specifically the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation and the WallBuilders ProFamily Legislative Network. Its basic idea is to get government to recognize and celebrate Judeo-Christian supremacy.
In Kentucky, the American Civil Liberties Union has charged that public school "biblical literacy" classes, formally OK'd by the state in 2017, have a tendency to turn into Sunday school.
"In some cases, students were assigned to memorize Bible verses," reported the Louisville Courier-Journal. "In other instances, students were asked 'What are some promises in the Bible that God gives to everyone who believes in him?' or assigned to 'do your best to develop close relationships with other Christians.' ... In one county, students viewed religious videos promoting Christianity such as 'God is Not Dead 2.'"
Is this "great," as Trump tweeted about the concept?
No. It's a perilous breach of the legal wall between church and state -- the wall that protects both institutions from the excesses of the other and makes true freedom of religious thought possible.
Does anyone along the faith spectrum really want to outsource the spiritual education of children to the government?
Put another way, does anyone want lay teachers formally weighing in either way on whether the Bible supports White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' theologically disquieting contention during a Christian Broadcasting Network interview Wednesday that God "wanted Donald Trump to become president and that's why he's there"?
An entertaining sidelight to this story is that David Lewicki, a pastor from 2004 to 2010 at New York City's Marble Collegiate Church, Trump's alleged spiritual home base, tweeted in response to Trump that his former parishioner "had the 'option' to come to Bible study. He never 'opted' in" during Lewicki's time there. "Nor did he ever actually enter the church doors. Not one time."
And it shows. Though Trump frequently oozed on the campaign trail about how much he loves the Bible, he showed almost no familiarity with it when questioned about specifics.
"Well, I think many," he babbled when a radio host asked him to name a favorite verse. "I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And I tell people, look, 'An eye for an eye,' you can almost say that."
Or you could almost say that Trump should can the pieties. It doesn't take much study to know that the Bible has little patience for hypocrites.