Nancy Seufert is a housewife, mother, Christian, rational human being. That’s where her problems began. She is a complex and paradoxical creature in a corner of the world that fears complexity and paradox.

“I’m just a mommy,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I go to church to ask why. I go to school to ask how.”

This attitude has led her into conflict with some of her fellow Christians over how to teach the Bible in Dorchester District Two Schools.

Some say it shouldn’t be taught at all. They say it is nothing more than a compelling, eccentric collection of poetry, genealogy, allegory, history, and morality stories, which are to be sorted out and understood by each individual, according to his or her own conscience. Others say it is the holy and inspired word of God, the immutable and absolute truth, the final authority on matters of science, history, rape, incest, genocide, etc. However it is presented, it will probably upset a lot of people, and that is a good reason to keep it out of the classrooms of Dorchester District Two.

That was the thinking of the Founding Fathers when they established a secular republic. They felt that Americans would have enough to argue about without bringing religion into the picture. They were right. Over the last two centuries, we have shed much blood over regional, ethnic, and economic differences. But little has been shed over religion.

I am not predicting bloodshed in the halls of Dorchester District Two Schools if it adopts a Bible study class. But the prospect of litigation is very real, and this brings up another aspect of Seufert’s complex and paradoxical relationship with the school district. She is a taxpayer with two children in Fort Dorchester High School.

“My son goes to school in a mobile classroom,” she said. “We hardly have enough money to house and teach our children. I don’t think we have any money for a lawsuit.”

But a lawsuit may be what Dorchester Two is headed for. The speed and recklessness with which the school board authorized Bible study raised eyebrows. The General Assembly voted last spring to allow school districts to teach courses on the “history and literature of the Bible.” Gov. Mark Sanford was more than eager to sign it.

The law calls for the State Board of Education to adopt academic standards and appropriate materials for the teaching of the history and literature of the Bible in South Carolina public schools.

But before that could happen, the Dorchester Two Board of Trustees authorized the elective Bible study class at Fort Dorchester High School, on Aug. 13. Eight days later, 18 students had been selected for the course, in time for the beginning of the school year. In that short time, a 40-page curriculum was developed and approved by the board, and Dorchester Two was in the religious education business. The teacher selected for the class has had no special training in First Amendment issues.

In early September, the board of trustees received a letter from the national office of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, warning that it was rushing in where angels fear to tread. The letter warned that the text chosen for the class, The Bible and Its Influence, produced by the Bible Literacy Project, “presents an overwhelmingly Christian perspective” on matters of history and literature. At least one school district in Texas is already in litigation over a course similar to the one being taught at Dorchester Two.

Almost anywhere else, there would be no problem with a well-planned Bible study class in the public schools. After all, what’s wrong with understanding the origins of the Bible, the many cultural and political influences that went into giving us this book that is so important to so many? And wouldn’t it be interesting to see how that book has influenced the thoughts of poets and politicians, saints and slave owners, martyrs and mass murderers? That could be a worthy goal in any public school.

But this is not anywhere else. We’re talking about Dorchester County, one of the most Republican counties in one of the most Republican states in the nation. (See my Sept. 12 column for more on white Southern thinking in Dorchester County.) For years, Christians and Republicans in this state have been trying to sneak prayer and Bible study into South Carolina’s public schools. This is their best effort so far.

For parents such as Nancy Seufert, this is not a question of who’s a Christian and who’s not. It’s a question of whether students will receive a quality education and if the district will avoid litigation it cannot afford.

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