Michael Gove defends school Bibles scheme
Friday 25 May 2012
Education Secretary Michael Gove has defended his plan to send copies of the King James Bible to schools across England.
Mr Gove said the scheme was funded by philanthropists and that it was important to mark the 400th anniversary of a "literary masterpiece".
He stressed the King James Bible was picked for historic and cultural reasons rather than on purely religious grounds, but did not rule out distributing copies of other holy books if donors paid.
The plan has proved controversial with non-religious groups who have suggested it is unlikely that there is a school that does not already have a copy of a Bible, and claimed the £370,000 it cost could have been better spent.
It has also been dismissed as a vanity project because the Bibles are marked "presented by the Secretary of State for Education".
Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that he did not know about the inscription.
"I have to confess that I didn't know they were going to say 'presented by the Secretary for Education' until I actually saw the first Bible," he said.
"In a way I don't mind."
He said the Education Department had received "hundreds of letters" from delighted headteachers.
Mr Gove said: "It's important to stress that the money for the distribution of these Bibles came from a variety of philanthropists, some of them people who have given money to the Conservatives, some of them people who have given money to the Liberal Democrats, one person who never would support any political party but thought that it was a good idea."
Even "arch-atheist" Richard Dawkins thought it was a "good idea", he said.
"In a way anything that focuses attention on what is, after all, a literary masterpiece first and foremost and anything which makes us reflect on the role of that translation in the life of our country, is a great thing."
Asked whether he would back calls for a copy of the Koran to be sent to schools, he said: "If people want to put forward proposals to me, philanthropists or others, for distributing great books to schools, then fantastic."
Pressed on the issue, he said: "Rather than me picking and choosing, let's say the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita or the Talmud or whatever..."
When it was pointed out he had chosen the Bible, Mr Gove said: "I think the King James Bible is specifically important because it was the root of so many important changes in the life of this nation.
"But if people wanted to put forward a selection of books which they felt I should distribute to schools, great.
"The more books that we can get into the hands of children, the better."
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