Removing the Bible and prayer from public schools has caused student behavior to decline?


It’s an eye-popping headline: “Education Expert: Removing Bible, Prayer from Public Schools Has Caused Decline” (italics added).

An education “expert” has evidence that the decades’ long decline in public education has been caused by removing the Bible and prayer? If true, that’s something of which everyone should take note!

Some background:

Recently, a professor at California State College in Long Beach and a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ, William Jeynes, suggested to an audience at the Heritage Foundation the existence of a correlation between the decline of U.S. public schooling and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1962 and 1963 decisions that ruled school-sponsored Bible reading.

According to a article, Professor Jeynes said:

One can argue, and some have, that the decision by the Supreme Court—in a series of three decisions back in 1962 and 1963—to remove Bible and prayer from our public schools, may be the most spiritually significant event in our nation’s history over the course of the last 55 years.

Okay. That’s a fair enough assessment. But, what objective evidence supports the assertion? That so-called “correlation.”

Citing data from the federal government (Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services and the U.S. Census Bureau) as well as research conducted by the advocacy groups, the Bible Literacy Project, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, and California educator Nader Twal, Jeynes identified five negative outcomes since 1963 that have evidenced themselves in public schools across the nation:

  • academic achievement has plummeted, including SAT scores;
  • increased rate of out-of-wedlock births;
  • increased illegal drug use;
  • increased juvenile crime; and,
  • deterioration of student conduct.

Yes, those negative outcomes have evidenced themselves in government schools, no doubt about it.

But, that’s a pretty slippery statistical slope onto which Jeynes is venturing, unless he’s merely stating his personal opinion and citing alleged “research” to support his opinion. Why? There’s absolutely zero “proof”—no scientifically demonstrated causal relationship—that those negative outcomes are related to the removal of the Bible and/or prayer from government schools. They may be, but that’s different than demonstrating that they are. After all, aren’t most of those negative outcomes also associated with nongovernment schools—where Bible study and prayer have been present all of those decades—though perhaps not in the same magnitude?

Jeynes continued:

Now the question is, given that there is a movement to put the Bible as literature back in the public schools and a moment of silence and so forth, can we recapture the moral fiber—the foundation that used to exist among many of our youth?

To that end, Jeynes cited the movement to reinstate the Bible as literature in government schools, with 440 school districts in 43 states currently teaching this type of course. In addition, 10 states have passed a law or resolution to bring the Bible as literature in the public schools statewide.

Forget that slippery statistical slope. Jeynes’ proposed solution has absolutely no foundation in careful research nor the careful analysis of objective data. Reintroducing either the Bible and/or prayer into government schools may be a very good idea, but Jeynes fails to establish any scientific correlation or causation to support what in reality is only a hope. Yes, having hope may be better than doing nothing. But that’s not good social science research.

Moreover, much of the alleged “research” Jeynes cites to support his conclusion is not careful research and analysis of objective data. They are policy proposals based upon religious ideology. Once again, as good as that ideology may be, it must be subjected to rigorous research and analysis of objective data to determine its veracity.

Religious conservatives do themselves a grave disservice when they suggest that correlations “prove” causation.  The former indicate some type of relationship (positive or negative) while the latter demonstrate a hypothesis (“if…then”) given a pre-determined level of probability of error for analyzing objective data.

Implying causation may play well with the ignorant (that is, those who do not know better for a variety of reasons), but it doesn’t with liberals who know better and will use such “research” to make conservatives look stupid (that is, those who should have known better). It also besmirches the stellar reputation of conservative organizations, like the Heritage Foundation.

In the end, the kind of homily Jeynes offered his audience is better preached in a church than peddled as social science at the Heritage Foundation. Want the Bible and prayer returned to government schools? Organizing like-minded folks to mount a grassroots political effort doesn’t require “research.” It requires political will.



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  1. I agree. My initial reaction was “he has a firm grasp of the obvious.”

    However, correlation is not causation. Causation needs to be proven. There are also at play other societal factors that contribute.

  2. “or prohibit the free exercise thereof.” In Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Church, Jefferson cites the whole of the First Amendment before mentioning the “wall of separation of church and state”.
    The government does not own the minor children, a captive audience in public school or any school as is mandated by law. The government has no real authority to ban the Bible or prayer or religion as these belong to the people, each and every one of the citizens and the will of the people must be observed.
    The Motley Monk says that the political will must be ascertained. This has been done since 1776, or 1788 and in the First Amednment. Atheism, through the government is unconstitutional, simply because minor children have to exercise their religious freedom as a civil right to become aware of their reality as sovereign persons and citizens. Religious freedom as a civil right belongs to all people especially minor children. As a flower buds, freedom must bud.
    Religious freedom is ours, then, now, and forever. Persons must remove the scales of the great liar from their eyes to see the need for our children to practice their civil rights and not be denied by any form of government.
    The removal of prayer, the Bible and religious freedom from school is a miscarriage of Justice and the imposition of communism.

  3. One interesting solution was enacted in the Jules Ferry Laws in France, which distinguished between “education,” which is the right and responsibility of the parents and “public instruction,” provided by the state.

    Accordingly, the laws provided that pupils in public schools must be provided with one full day a week (other than Sundays) so that their parents may provide them with religious instruction, if that is their wish. The schools used to close on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons (Saturday was a working day) and they still do close on Wednesday afternoons. Catechism classes on those afternoons are very popular with working parents.

    The other concession is that, in the case of private, mostly faith schools, the state pays the salaries of the teachers and librarians (but not the Principal or other staff), providing they prepare their pupils for the public examinations. In practice, there are few constraints; the only ones actually refused funding that I ever heard of were those using Arabic or Berber as the medium of instruction.

  4. Bravo, Motley. Church historian the Venerable Cesare Baronius held that Catholics have no need to embellish, because the truth is sufficient to bring souls to God.

  5. Reintroducing the Bible under cover of Literature… in hopes that the stories are powerful enough to reveal God? Hmm. Maybe. But as Motley says, the means are not justified for this end. Subterfuge is not an acceptable means, even to the best possible End of this world: the next world. This is an honorable difference between Christians and Muslims. More than honorable: metaphysical.

    This situation reminds me of the concern expressed in today’s WSJ book review of Deresiewicz’ Excellent Sheep,

    “The humanities are what we have, in a secular society, instead of religion,” he writes. They are where “educated people went to contemplate those questions of meaning and value and purpose” after the traditional source of that knowledge, religion, was discredited by science and skepticism.

    Any well-educated person in Western society should be familiar with stories from the Bible in order to be able to interpret our shared history. But the stories will be presented as discredited in order to be presented at all.

  6. To me, Motley might be being a little hard on Jeynes who does say the removal of the bible etc is a significant “spiritual” event … Motley is asking for objective evidence about a spiritual event.
    Two ways can think about this – for real correlation we seek spiritual evidence for a spiritual event and I think we can find that– communities who read the bible are less likely to have high numbers of out of wedlock births, societies that throw the bible out are more likely to to have high numbers of same.

    I can see that those negative outcomes ( lack of achievement more out of wedlock babies etc) are in the spiritual category.
    Trying to read the signs of the times, to discern what is really happening means looking beyond the surface. It does not seem helpful to try to objectify or require a scientistic analysis of subtle social changes over times. is “proving” causality really necessary, or can we draw good and valid conclusions by seeing the truth that is all around us.

  7. I rather suspect that it goes a lot further than Bibles and prayer. There is an active anti-God secular agenda being aggressively pushed in the public schools. Our families (indeed, even our churches) have been corrupted since the sixties moral revolution, more so) and that is the cause of the raw product entering school. Any chef knows you can’t make a great meal out of tainted ingredients.

  8. The difficulty schools face is summarised in a circular from the Scottish Ministers on religious observance in schools.
    “Scotland is a society with a longstanding Christian tradition. The most recent census showed that Christianity remains the main religious influence in Scotland. 67% of the Scottish population reported having a religion. 65% reported being members of the Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic Church or other Christian churches. However, Scotland has for many generations also had other faith and belief traditions, never more so than at present as Scotland increasingly becomes a place for many cultures and beliefs. This trend is set to continue as Scotland sets out to attract people from other communities as part of Scottish Executive policy. We can expect Scotland to become increasingly diverse in the range of faith and belief traditions represented. Religious observance needs to be developed in a way which reflects and understands this diversity. It should be sensitive to our traditions and origins and should seek to reflect these but it must equally be sensitive to individual spiritual needs and beliefs, whether these come from a faith or non-faith perspective.”
    They also specified that “Where the school, whether denominational or non-denominational, is continuous with a faith community, that community’s faith in the “focus of worship”, may be assumed and worship may be considered to be appropriate as part of the formal activity of the school. Where, as in most non-denominational schools, there is a diversity of beliefs and practices, the review group believes that the appropriate context for an organised act of worship is within the informal curriculum as part of the range of activities offered for example by religions, groups, chaplains and other religious leaders.”
    The compromise embodied in the Circular appears to be supported by a consensus of schools and parents.

  9. Removal of the Bible is nothing more than censorship and book burning by the preposterous usurpation of parental rights. Teachers, all public education, is effected “in loco parentis” in the place of and with the power of attorney of the parents. The state does not own the child, or the public schools. The parents have authority over and the final say about what is taught to their children. Separating religious formation and public education is not the solution. The solution lays in the state, the public school and the teachers humbly acknowledging that they work “in loco parentis”.
    Michael Paterson-Seymour: “One interesting solution was enacted in the Jules Ferry Laws in France, which distinguished between “education,” which is the right and responsibility of the parents and “public instruction,” provided by the state.”
    “public instruction” is still the domain of the parents. When parental authority is usurped, that is, not actually acknowledged by the state, communism inheres

  10. “Implying causation may play well with the ignorant (that is, those who do not know better for a variety of reasons), but it doesn’t with liberals who know better and will use such “research” to make conservatives look stupid (that is, those who should have known better).”
    Interchange ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ in that sentence, and you describe “climate change.” Other parallels run throughout the argument as well.
    Pray our good people don’t follow that same worthless path.

  11. Removal of the Bible, the mention of God and prayer in public school is totalitarian. The state has only to work for the common good and general welfare. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Any state who rejects Divine Providence is imposing atheism.

  12. I agree Don L- not only is the Bible removed but it’s content is replaced by oppositional content. There is not just a void of scriptural reference, the void is filled with reference to anti God, and especially anti Judeo Christian, philosophy.

  13. Removing the Bible and prayer and insinuating atheistic evolution denies the human being’s immortal soul and the metaphysical, the spirit of man. Why ought young people behave when they are taught that they have no eternal reward, that it is now or never?

  14. At Oxford until the 1960s, “Smalls” was part of the entrance exam. I sat it in 1964. It consisted of six gobbets from the Greek New Testament (invariably from the Gospels or Acts), which the candidate had to translate into English, identify its source and relate it to its context. Care appears to have been taken to avoid anything doctrinally controversial, or passages that were word-for-word identical in two or more of the Synoptics. Candidates were allowed tree hours.

    It ensured at least a certain familiarity with the Sacred Text. I wonder how most 17-year olds, even at Catholic schools, would fare in such an exam today.

  15. M P-S: Every battle of our generation is about norms. Every one. C.S. Lewis said that if you catch someone doing something wrong, he’ll try to justify it by citing some excuse or exception; no one ever responds by admitting it and flouting right and wrong. That’s not true any more. The battles of our time are about the denial of any standard, any basic knowledge or agreed-upon principle, anything fixed at all.

    Our society decided it would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, but even Hell is under God’s law. Now it’s trying to deny the existence of law.

  16. AMEN… Right on target and so very well stated each time. Mary De Voe on Thursday, August 21, A.D. 2014 at 10:57am

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