Cameron's Bible plan attracts unchristian feeling

25th November 2011 at 00:00
Secularist anger as the King James edition is sent to every school

It is regarded by many as the most important book ever published in English and, to recognise its significance on the 400th anniversary of its completion, the prime minister is to send a King James Bible to every school in the country.

The Bible's translation was ordered by King James I in 1604 as an attempt to forge unity between rival religious factions. And while it is unlikely David Cameron's act will unify his Government with the teaching unions, it is hoped the move will help the nation's pupils to appreciate the impact of the text.

According to Number 10, the exact details of how the Government intends to commemorate the anniversary are yet to be confirmed, but TES understands that ministers are set to take the highly controversial step of sending a copy of the Bible to every school, complete with a foreword by education secretary Michael Gove.

It is perhaps unsurprising that this proposal has been criticised by non- religious groups, which believe it is a bad use of public money. The National Secular Society (NSS) questioned why the Department for Education could not put a message up on its website and save the country "tens of thousands of pounds".

"It's not as if Bibles are in short supply in schools," NSS president Terry Sanderson said. "But if (Mr Gove) intends to go ahead with this, will he also please ensure that a copy of On the Origin of Species is sent out on Darwin Day.

"This book is much harder to find in schools and would be in line with his policy of promoting science and evidence-based education. I'm sure that he could write an excellent foreword to this, too," Mr Sanderson added.

And the British Humanist Association (BHA) said it was "highly unacceptable" for the Government to promote a particular religious text in every school.

"Either the Government is funding this initiative itself at a time when it is making severe cuts elsewhere, or the Church is funding it but using the Government as a vehicle through which to promote Christianity - both are unacceptable," said BHA campaigns officer Richy Thompson.

"All state-funded schools and the Department itself should be neutral on matters of religion and belief, so that they can aim to be equally inclusive for all pupils and staff, regardless of their background," he added.

The Government, however, is insistent that one does not have to be a Christian to believe the translation of the Bible was a "critical moment" in giving knowledge to the masses and therefore hugely important.

"Some people look at certain battles, or some look at certain parliamentary acts, as hinge moments in history," Mr Gove said. "I actually think the translation of the Bible into the vernacular is a critical moment in the life of the nation."

He went further, adding that the King James Bible was the most important book written in the English language.

"It's a thing of beauty, and it's also an incredibly important historical artefact," he added. "It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture. And it is a work that has had international significance."

POLITICAL MINEFIELD

Issuing popular texts and documentaries to schools can become a political minefield for governments, as Labour discovered when it sent out An Inconvenient Truth, the climate-change film made by former US vice- president Al Gore (pictured).

The decision led to the former Department for Children, Schools and Families being taken to the High Court in 2007 by father-of-two Stewart Dimmock, who said the film was politically biased, scientifically inaccurate and contained "sentimental mush". He called for it to be banned and accused the Government of "brainwashing" pupils with propaganda.

Guidance had to be issued to teachers telling them to warn pupils there were other opinions on climate change and that they should not necessarily accept the views of the film.

Original headline: Mr Cameron's big Bible plan attracts unchristian feeling

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