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Bible finding a place in schools

When Angell Caudill lectured on Samson's strength and Samuel's saintliness during second period, Nick Crockett didn't complain.

It's cultural education - not Sunday school - to Crockett and other students in Caudill's biblical history class at Reynolds High School. The students say they want to learn about Judaism and Christianity the way they would learn about Hinduism or Islam in a world history class."I want to study in depth about Bible history more than the church can offer," David Anderson, 18, a senior, said Thursday. "Nothing's forced on you in this class."

Using a curriculum from the Greensboro-based National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, Reynolds is one of a growing number of public schools rediscovering the Bible as an important - and legal - book to teach.

Bible classes became a topic for debate again this week when the Lee County, Fla., school board voted to offer the classes despite legal advice that the move won't withstand a constitutional challenge.

"We're definitely seeing a resurgence of religion classes nationwide, especially in North Carolina," said Warren Nord, director of programs in the humanities and moral values at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At least 20 school districts in the state now offer some kind of Bible classes, including the two largest, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Nord suggests that heightened awareness of religion through society as well as the growth of conservative Christianity have influenced the expansion.

"A lot of parents are also concerned that there's a moral crisis in the youth culture," he said. "One way they think to solve this problem is by adding Bible classes to the schools."

Many school districts across the country eliminated religion classes in the 1960s and 1970s when the high court struck down use of the Bible as devotional material, citing the First Amendment prohibition against government favoritism of one religion over another.

A 1963 case effectively set guidelines allowing the Bible to be taught as literature or history, but several school boards eliminated religion classes altogether to avoid controversy.

The Winston-Salem and Forsyth County public school system ended its religion classes in 1990 because of low enrollment, said Jim Wil-helm, superintendent for high school administration.

As more parents and administrators worried that public schools weren't giving students a moral education, the idea of religion classes resurfaced.

The Bible curriculum council's successful program in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools persuaded the Winston-Salem schools to take a look. The district used the program for the first time during the 1995-96 school year.

Wilhelm said school officials in his district have had no complaints about the classes, now taken by about 400 of the district's 11,000 high school students.

Deborah Ross, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, said the curriculum appears constitutional. "What we object to is when the Bible is taught as morality."