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Generation Z, which includes those students currently in high school, is the least Christian generation to date, according to a Barna Group study released earlier this year.

Indeed, 34 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 years old across the country say they are either atheist, agnostic or have no religious affiliation, twice as many as adults, according to the study.

But Hamilton County teens either aren't following the trend — which would be refreshing — or are extremely interested in the Bible as history.

That is borne out in the record enrollment of public school students in Bible history classes during the 2017-2018 school year. During the year, 4,068 students in grades 6-12 in 23 schools, and under the tutelage of 20 certified teachers, completed such elective courses.

During the 2018-2019 school year that began Wednesday, the program will expand to 25 schools and have 22 credentialed teachers, according to the sponsoring nonprofit Bible in the Schools. During the past two years, according to the organization, access to classes has grown from 67 percent to 81 percent of students.

The classes are made available to students at no cost to taxpayers through charitable donations from local churches and individuals to Bible in the Schools, a nearly 100-year-old agency. They follow guidelines set forth by a 1980 federal court ruling that permitted Bible history to be taught as a credited elective in Hamilton County schools.

The organization recently reimbursed the local school district $1.3 million for its 2017-2018 program. Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent of schools, said in a news release that the amount was "the largest philanthropic gift received by Hamilton County public schools during the 2017-2018 school year."

The classes, he said, help students develop "a broad understanding of the events, writings and ideas that have shaped Western society and the culture around them."

The heritage of Bible in the Schools is likely one reason Chattanooga has been named the most Bible-minded city in the U.S. for four of the past five years. The city earned the title in 2013, kept it in 2014 and also won it in 2016 and 2017. In 2015, the distinction went to Birmingham, Alabama.

The annual study, according to Barna, "analyzes the Bible-mindedness of the top 100 Nielsen media markets across the U.S. Bible-mindedness is calculated from combined levels of regular Bible reading and residents' beliefs in the Bible's accuracy."

Chattanooga also was tabbed by Barna as the most churched city in the country in 2017.

Area families should be grateful they have this opportunity, one not afforded students everywhere.

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