Controversy surrounds Pennsylvania's 'Year of the Bible'


The House of Representatives passed a resolution that places an emphasis on the teachings of biblical scripture




2012 is not the Year of Games, but the Year of the Bible, at least according to the Pennsylvania legislature.

In late January, Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 535, which declared 2012 the statewide “Year of the Bible.”

The text of the resolution states that “the House of Representatives declare 2012 as the ‘Year of the Bible’ in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.”

Since that time, H.R. 535 has been decidedly controversial both across the state and on Penn’s campus, bringing into question the issue of separation of church and state.

Religious organizations across campus have offered mixed reactions to the resolution’s passage.

“We’re outraged. This is an obvious collusion between the state and the church,” said College freshman Emmett Wynn, founder of Rekindle Reason: Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers, a new student group on campus. He added that the group is in the “nascent stages” of writing a protest letter to the legislature.

Others, however, do not believe the resolution is particularly significant.

“I don’t even see this as a serious measure. It’s not an official statement of our state,” Director of Penn’s Christian Association Rob Gurnee said. “It got slipped in.”

Though the resolution does not have binding power over Pennsylvania citizens, it nonetheless holds some symbolic importance, according to Political Science professor Rogers Smith.

“It does send a signal that the state legislature of Pennsylvania thinks people ought to have faith in the Bible,” he said. “And that is a signal that can be easily heard to imply that if you don’t believe the Bible is a sacred text, there’s something wrong with you. And that’s a bad signal.”

Some Christians at Penn also expressed reservations about the resolution.

“I think it’s taking what’s a very personal faith decision in becoming a Christian and using the Bible in a top-down approach,” said College sophomore Matt Pershe, a member of the Student Leadership Team of Penn Cru, a Christian organization. “I agree with some of the sentiments in it, but I don’t necessarily endorse our elected representatives saying that this is the truth.”

Since H.R. 535 was passed last month, some legislators have apologized for initially supporting it, claiming that they did not know the finer details of the resolution.

For some, the fact that these individuals supported the resolution without apparently knowing what they were voting for has drawn concern.

“It’s certainly true that most of the legislators have not read it,” Smith said. “It had been part of a big pile of resolutions labeled non-controversial.”

“All I can say is that this was put through a public vote,” Pershe added, “and there is a sort of a responsibility [in that] I would hope you know what you’re voting on.”

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