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Students told to tote, quote Bible

A New Jersey Christian activist will mount an unusual effort this week to carry religion into the nation's public schools.

Rather than lobbying the government to require school prayer or battling against the teaching of evolution, Bob Pawson is asking students to bring Bibles to school for the week.

And he doesn't want Scripture sitting in lockers or backpacks.

Pawson, a conservative evangelical and Trenton, N.J., public school teacher, said students should use relevant Bible passages to complete assignments and contribute to classroom discussions. His Scripture in Schools Project also calls on students to leave religious tracts at "strategic places throughout school," such as in library books, desks and lockers.

"The only people keeping Bibles out of America's public schools are us Christians!" Pawson wrote on his Web site, "Let's just bring them in. Millions of us. Tote 'em and quote 'em!"

Pawson has scheduled the project to coincide with a nationwide See You at the Pole event in which students will gather for prayer at their schools' flagpoles before classes begin. Organized by evangelicals, the annual gathering will take place Wednesday and is expected to attract several million participants nationwide.

However, it appears few northern New Jersey students will heed Pawson's call, despite his efforts to publicize the event through Christian media circles.

Pawson knew of just several local kids - all members of Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Hackensack, N.J. - planning to take their Bibles to school.

One student said he plans to read his holy book during study halls and avoid aggressively promoting his faith.

"My friends consider me a cool Christian, because I don't ram my faith down people's throats," said Adam Van Clief, a senior at North Bergen High School.

Another student said she, too, will take a low-key approach because she knows no other evangelicals at her school.

"It's going to be a little awkward, because I have a lot of friends who aren't Christian," said Angelica Camacho-Malone, a sophomore at North Arlington High School. "But I'm hoping I can just let them know about the Bible and show them that it isn't as boring as it may seem to them."

Meanwhile, Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said he had concerns about Pawson's plan, though he also noted that there's nothing unconstitutional about students bringing Bibles to school.

Lynn said he was disturbed that Pawson's Web site asks students to distribute tracts and suggests that pastors should go to schools with their Bibles and clerical garb.

"You can bring a Bible to school," Lynn said in an interview. "But this seems to be a case of pushing the envelope, and in some areas, he pushes it right off a cliff."

Pawson, who said he started the event a decade ago, said the purpose isn't to proselytize or convert students, but to share the wealth of literature, history and theology in the Bible.

Still, he said he relishes the idea of students quoting Genesis in science class to contest the theory of evolution - which many evangelicals say contradicts the biblical account of creation.

"We aren't looking to spark controversy," Pawson said. "But if the class discussion is on how life started ... then a kid who believes in creation can back up his viewpoint."

Lynn, however, said there's a fine line between legitimate classroom discussion and theological indoctrination.

He said a lecture on the works of William Shakespeare - which contain many biblical allusions - would be an appropriate place to discuss Scripture.

But he said some conservative religious groups have begun training students to aggressively challenge science teachers on evolution.

"I think in those cases it's appropriate for the teacher to say, 'This is a science class; we are not discussing religion,' and tell the student to sit down," Lynn said. "Students don't get to rewrite the curriculum just because they feel like it."

The Hackensack church, meanwhile, kicked off both the Scripture in Schools Project and the See You at the Pole event with a rally Friday evening replete with Christian rock bands and sermons by the pastor.

Mandy Leverett, the youth pastor, said it's important for students to bring their faith to school, because it sets a good example for others.

"To introduce young people to the Lord, a lot of times it will detour them from getting into habits that are destructive," Leverett said.