Hamilton County Schools receives $1.8 million from Bible in the Schools to fund elective courses

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Aug. 5—Hamilton County Schools received a $1.8 million reimbursement from local organization Bible in the Schools to fund Bible history electives in the district.

The nonprofit funds five elective courses in Bible history in 29 middle and high schools across Hamilton County, reaching about 4,600 students.

"The Hamilton County public school Bible History program has been a daily dispenser of hope in this community and reflects the generosity of so many committed partners. Studying Bible History in our public schools helps ground and awaken students to the rich cultural footprint that the Bible has had on history while offering students hope, values, and life lessons relevant to the tough issues they wrestle with daily," Bible in the Schools President Cathy Scott said in a news release.

The district received reimbursements from the group of $1.3 million for the 2017-2018 school year, $1.5 million for 2018-19 and $1.7 million for 2019-2020.

"It is an honor to once again accept the gift of Bible History on behalf of Hamilton County Schools," said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson in the news release. "This gift sponsors the education of thousands of public school students in our district. The countywide Bible History elective program encourages students in grades 6-12 to recognize the rich cultural connections between an ancient text and our modern world."

The courses follow guidelines established in a 1980 federal court ruling that allows Bible history courses to be taught in public middle and high schools in the district, according to the news release.

In 1979, the U.S. District Court for East Tennessee ruled in Wiley v. Franklin that Bible study courses taught in Chattanooga and Hamilton County public elementary schools in the 1978-79 school year violated the First Amendment. In 1980, the court established rules for teaching Bible courses academically, according to legal system website Justia.

Rules included creating "uniform minimum standards" for hiring teachers for Bible study classes in elementary grades, replacing teachers who don't meet those standards and creating a plan where a school faculty member selects and trains all Bible study teachers.

Hamilton County commissioners Greg Martin and Steve Highlander praised the program, which will enter its 100th year next year, in the commission meeting Wednesday.

"We don't have Bible in the Schools without generous people — not one dollar is tax dollars — without generous people who believe in the value and the culture, our American culture that's been passed down to us for generations, and I wanted to celebrate them as they begin this new school year," Martin told the commission.

Highlander, a former teacher, told the commission he was involved in the program for many years and was thankful for it.

"They are totally in compliance with federal law, they teach it as Bible history and literature and it is an elective course, but I am so thankful for it," Highlander said. "To be a fully educated person, Abraham Lincoln once said you cannot be an educated person if you do not know the Bible, and that's not speaking religiously or theologically, that's to be an educated person."

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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