A Bible is seen in an exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC on November 14, 2017 ( AFP / Saul Loeb)

Posts falsely claim Congress printed the first Bible in America

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Social media posts claim that Congress printed the first Bible in America for use in public schools. But experts say that while legislators signed off on the first English-language printing of the book in America, they did not suggest distributing it to schools, and an earlier publication in a Native American language preceded it by more than a century.

"The first Bible printed in America was printed by Congress for use in our PUBLIC SCHOOLS," says a November 25, 2021 Facebook post.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on December 2, 2021

More examples of the claim, which has been circulating for at least a decade and has been used to question the long-held principle of separation of church and state in the United States, appeared here, here and here.

Museum of the Bible Chief Curatorial Officer Jeffrey Kloha provided an analysis of the social media claim.

The first Bible printed in America was published in the Wampanoag language in 1663, and the post is referring to the "Aitken Bible," produced in 1777 by Robert Aitken, which was the first version printed in English, he said.

Restricted by British embargoes and publication laws, Aitken petitioned Congress to sanction his copy, Kloha said.

In September 1782, a special committee reported to Congress that Aitken had, at his own expense, completed the book with "great accuracy," and Congress recommended the version as "subservient to the interest of religion, as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country.”

"Aitken was permitted to publish it 'in the manner he shall think proper,'" but Congress's recommendation "neither mentions nor advocates (nor prohibits) the use of the Bible in schools," Kloha said.

Library of Congress chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections division Mark Dimunation agreed, saying the claim contained "many factual errors."

"It was not the first Bible printed in America. It was the first full English language printing of the Bible in America," he said, adding that he is "not aware of any statement regarding schools."

AFP Fact Check has debunked other inaccurate claims about religious texts here and here.

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