It was reported last evening that a Pennsylvania state senator from the Pittsburgh area has introduced legislation to declare 2012 as “the Year of the Bible” in our commonwealth. He claims that it is not a proselytizing proposal, but one intended to recognize the important role the Bible has played in shaping our culture. He also made reference to a hope that the designation would encourage people to read it because it is a source of wisdom, a needed commodity for out time.
If approved, it would not be an unprecedented act of a legislative body in this nation. In 1983 President Reagan gave the designation “Year of the Bible” to our entire country, with predictable but somewhat weak protest from the strongly secularist camp. Today’s climate is somewhat less hospitable to such outright expressions of Christian identification. Maybe that is putting the shift in milder terms than is warranted. The immediate reaction pointing to the “separation of church and state” has, of course, been voiced, to which the erstwhile senator responded by (correctly) pointing out that the First Amendment simply says that “Congress shall make no law . . ..” Congress is not in any way involved. While federal interpretation has seemingly run roughshod over the distinction between what a state may do and what the federal government may do,at the time the First Amendment was ratified several ratifying states had established churches without seeing any contradiction.
But is it a wise or helpful declaration to propose at this time? To answer that one should evaluate several factors. For one, what was the overall impact of the 1983 designation? Twenty-nine years later, do we see the country as more positively inclined toward the reading, teaching, and following of the Bible than would have been the case otherwise? Was that even the case in years closer to the act itself. I’m skeptical. Another factor to consider is, as was asked of the senator, whether this could be followed by designation of, for example, 2013 as the “Year of the Quran?” While he said this would be entirely permissible for someone to propose and for the legislature to vote on, one gained the impression that he himself would not be doing so. Yet in a climate wherein many people are heavily committed to religious plurality, it is not inconceivable that such a measure would follow and be approved in the name of fairness. Then again, maybe it would be a good thing for people to actually read the Quran.
What do readers think? What would be the positive and negative effects of a move such as this in a state, this one in particular? I’m not especially enthusiastic about the idea, but perhaps there are reasons I’ve not thought of. I’d love to read your comments!