AGO 1956 No. 226 - Mar 19 1956
BIBLE IN PUBLIC SCHOOL LIBRARY.
Placing Bible, in any or all of its various versions, on the reference shelves of a public school library does not violate either Article I, section 11, or Article IX, section 4, which provide, respectively, that no public property or money may be used for religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of a religious establishment; and, that public schools shall be free from sectarian control or influence.
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March 19, 1956
Honorable John K. Yearout
600 West Third Street
Aberdeen, Washington Cite as: AGO 55-57 No. 226
Dear Mr. Yearout:
We paraphrase the inquiry in your letter of March 7, 1956 (previously acknowledged), as follows:
"May the Bible properly and legally be placed in the libraries of our public schools?"
In our opinion the question must be answered in the affirmative.
This particular question has not been passed upon by our state supreme court, nor has it been the subject of an official opinion of the attorney general.
A letter written in 1930 by the then attorney general to the office of the superintendent of public instruction, while not bearing directly on the instant question, contained language which might give rise to an inference that the Bible must be excluded from the public schools.
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
Parenthetically, we make the observation that the word "Bible" in your inquiry, in all probability, refers to the authorized version, or King James Bible because of its current pre‑eminence. However, it could, with perfect reasonableness, refer to one of the other English translations, there being many editions and many names for editions. Some of the many editions of the Bible in English are listed in the chronology of the year or years of their publication:
Matthew's Bible 1537
Great Bible 1539
Cranmer's Bible 1540
Geneva Bible 1560
Bishop's Bible 1568
or King James Bible 1604-1611
Douay (Douai) 1609-1610
Standard Version 1881, 1885
Standard Version 1901
Standard Version 1946-1951
This analysis necessarily precludes a discussion of questions growing out of the use of the Bible in devotional exercises, or for religious instruction, or as a textbook in the public schools because these matters in the past have had the attention of our supreme court and the attorney general, and for the further and better reason that they are not pertinent to the precise question before us. Nor is it necessary to our purpose to determine whether the Bible, in any or each of its many different versions, is a sectarian book.
The two provisions of our state constitution which concern us are:
First, Article I, section 11 (4th amendment)
"No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment."
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
Second, Article IX, section 4
"All schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence."
The constitutional provision quoted first above has no application to our problem on any reasonable grounds. The installation upon the reference shelves of a public school library of any or each of the various versions of the Bible cannot by any stretch of reason be considered religious worship, a religious exercise, religious instruction, or an act in support of a religious establishment.
The public school library in question may already contain copies of the Douay (Douai) version of the Bible (if, perchance, that particular version is not the subject of your inquiry), copies of the Talmud of Judaism; the Koran of Islam; the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas of Hinduism; the Classics of Confucius, and others of the great scriptures of the religions of mankind.
It seems that only a most strained construction of the language of the constitution in Article IX, section 4, and the application of an unrealistic process of logic could result in the conclusion that a Bible or other book about religion upon the shelves of a public school library could operate to exert that degree of control or influence upon that public school which the authors of our constitution had in mind.
Because it applies naturally, and in its entirety, to the question before us, we adopt as our own a part of the language of the court in the Minnesota case of Kaplan v. Independent School District of Virginia, 171 Minn. 142, 214 N.W. 18:
"We are not concerned with nice distinctions between sects, nor as to how among them the different authorized versions of the Bible are regarded. We take notice that they are at variance. But we do feel that the intolerance which drove so many to seek an asylum in America has gradually abated and is not now so intense. This intolerance touching religion, the Bible, or certain scientific lines of study, is not confined to the Christian or to the orthodox Jew, but it seems to grip the atheist and the disbeliever as intensely. Speaking for myself [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] only, I think that instead of fostering this spirit of intolerance by a strained construction of the constitution so as to exclude from use by public schools of any book proclaiming great moral precepts, it is more desirable that a liberal construction be adopted to the end that even in the public school the pupils perceive that there is that in our principles of government which recognizes the religious element of man and guarantees protection to its free exercise and culture, and that divergent views of others concerning religion and worship should be tolerated and respected so long as there is no effort made to teach or induce any pupil to adopt them."
The constitution is not directed against the Bible, but applies equally to all forms and phases of religious beliefs. If the Bible is to be excluded because it pertains to a religion and a future state, heathen mythology must go with it. Moral philosophy must be discarded because it reasons of God and immortality, and all literature which mentions a Supreme Being, or intimates any obligations to Him, must be excluded. We cannot conceive that the framers of the constitution, or the people, intended that the best and most inspiring literature, history and science should be excluded from the public schools, so that nothing should be left except that which has been sterilized, so as not to interfere with the beliefs or offend the sensibilities of atheists.
We hope this opinion will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,