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Kentucky Debates Religious Dates in Classroom

Critics of plans by Kentucky’s school board to add secular references B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Area) to historical dating in social studies textbooks appealed at a public hearing for reversal of the decision and continuing to use only B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for “year of our Lord”).

“This is not a chipping away. This is one more event in a full-frontal assault on Christianity,” said Hershael York, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, quoted in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />LouisvilleCourier-Journal. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“It’s like a cultural Khmer Rouge,” York said, a reference to the Cambodian genocide led by Communist leader Pol Pot in the 1970s.
 
Kentucky’s state school board originally proposed substituting B.C.E. and C.E. for all references to B.C. and A.D. in curriculum guidelines for high and middle schools, but reconsidered and opted to use both dating methods after religious conservatives protested.
 
Educators said the change is intended to familiarize students with terminology they are likely to encounter on college-entry tests and in reading during further education. But critics, including the Family Foundation of Kentucky and the American Family Association, view it as an effort to strip mention of Christianity’s role in history and culture.
 
An e-mail alert from the American Family Association said the action “opens the door for the ACLU to find a liberal activist judge who will forcefully remove the use of B.C. and A.D.”
 
“The ACLU types will claim that the use of B.C. and A.D. are a violation of the First Amendment because it dates history based on the birth of Christ,” the e-mail warned.
 
B.C. and A.D. are based on the supposed year of Jesus’ birth, posited by a monk from Russia named Dionysius Exiguus in the year 525. He made a mistake in his calculation, however. The Gospel of Matthew says Jesus was born while Herod the Great was king. Herod died in 4 B.C.
 
Usage of B.C.E. and C.E., meanwhile, has become popular among academics and historians, as well as in Christian-Jewish dialogue, out of respect for persons who are not Christians.
 
Politicians waded into the issue, including Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who said he opposed dropping B.C. and A.D. from textbooks at a ceremonial signing of a bill authorizing installation of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol.
 
The Kentucky Senate unanimously voted to require schools to use B.C. and A.D. The bill died when the House failed to act on it before the end of the legislative session April 12.
 
Fletcher, an ordained Baptist minister who faces an uphill battle for re-election, is seizing on issues dear to religious conservatives in an attempt to revive his political career. In his State-of-the-Commonwealth address in January, Fletcher encouraged schools to teach about intelligent design–a theory that the complexity of life is best explained by an intelligent creator–as an alternative to evolution.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.