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Stetson's Bible battle

By Chuck Stetson's count, there are some 1,300 references to the Bible in the collected works of William Shakespeare.

By Chuck Stetson's count, there are some 1,300 references to the Bible in the collected works of William Shakespeare. The investment-banker-turned-private-equity-maven has spent the past four years compiling statistics like this for the Bible Literacy Project, a nonprofit group he founded and devotes much of his spare time promoting. Now Stetson, 59, is spearheading a project that encourages public high schools to teach the Bible's impact on literature, art and music.

The Bible and Its Influence, a 392-page textbook coedited by Stetson, was published in September by the BLP. Several public schools have begun using it. Though a devout Christian, Stetson -- who advised telecom and energy companies as a banker for Bache Halsey Stuart Shields (bought by Prudential in 1981) before founding New York­based Private Equity Investors in 1986 -- insists he's not trying to sway the beliefs of the nation's teens. "This deals with knowledge that belongs in public schools," he asserts, "as opposed to what to believe, which belongs in the home and houses of worship."

Stetson, whose firm buys stakes in private equity and venture capital funds from other limited partners, has assembled a diverse array of supporters to vouch for the book's educational bona fides. Those who have advised on or endorsed the project include Rabbi Marc Gellman of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, New York, a reporter on spiritual issues for Good Morning America's "God Squad"; the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, which seeks to protect free expression through public education; and the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers.

Still, the 58-year-old Americans United for Separation of Church and State has said that it will carefully monitor the use of the book to ensure that teachers aren't using it to promulgate Christian beliefs in public schools.

Unbowed by that scrutiny, Stetson hopes to reverse what he calls an undue chilling of educational discussion of biblical influences on civilization, which stems from a 1963 Supreme Court ruling barring school Bible recitations. "I looked at the problem as any venture capitalist might," he says. "I found a compelling idea and formed an outstanding management team."