Public School Bible Curriculum Creates Controversy
By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter
Dallas, TX –
Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 reporter: Late last month, the Grand Prairie school board considered adopting an elective religion class for the school year which starts next week. The course, entitled "The Bible in History and Literature," is available from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools' website, BibleInSchools.net.
Triumphant music plays as the homepage loads, stating their curriculum has been voted into 312 school districts. Although site visitors can preview the table of contents for free, course materials are available for 150 dollars only through the online bookstore, under the headline "Keeping Christian Dollars in Christ's Kingdom." The council website also says "The Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years.' Such claims concern S.M.U. religious studies professor Mark Chancey, who evaluated the curriculum for the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right.
Mark Chancey, professor of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University: Our problem is not with the idea of good academically solid Bible courses in public schools. Our concern is with this particular curriculum.
Cuellar: In response to the criticism, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has enlisted the Liberty Legal Institute of Plano, which advocates for religious freedom. The group's director of litigation, Hiram Sasser, is also on the state board of advisors for the National Council.
Hiram Sasser, Liberty Legal: Everyone's come to the same conclusion, that this curriculum was perfectly fine. It meshes well with the educational environment of a school, and it's beneficial, and the Supreme Court has always said it's beneficial for the kids to learn about the Bible. So anyone who's against this has just got to be French
Cuellar: A press release on the council's website calls opponents anti-religion extremists. But that wasn't the case last night at Temple Imanu-El in Dallas, where 400 people including Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian clergy, gathered to hear Mark Chancey's findings.
Chancey: Sometimes the curriculum relies on extremely idiosyncratic, non-scholarly literature. Let me give you an example. On page 170 the curriculum said "respected scholar Dr. J.O. Kinnaman declared, of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by archaeologists, not one has ever been discovered that ever contradicts or denies one word, phrase, clause, or sentence of the Bible. It always affirms and verifies the facts of the Biblical record."
Cuellar: He also found that the curriculum cites a discredited urban legend as truth, claiming NASA has recorded evidence of a day missing in time, confirming a biblical passage which says the sun stood still.
Chancey: When the type of urban legend that would normally circulate by spam e-mail ends up in a public school curriculum then I think we've got problems.
Cuellar: Chancey said there are no names available of authors or teachers who developed the curriculum. And dozens of its pages are lifted from other sources without credit or attribution.
Chancey: Even the discussion of thou shall not steal is plagiarized (laughter)
Cuellar: Attorney Hiram Sasser at Liberty Legal says these claims have no merit, because public schools districts including Brady in Texas and hundreds nationwide have taught this course for years without any legal challenge.
Sasser: As everyone in the academic world understands, a curriculum is kind of a living body. You're constantly revising and improving it. It's one thing to disagree with the academic rigor of a program, but that's not what the Texas Freedom Network's position is. There position is they think it's unlawful. And I guess my response is, well, show up and see if it is. They're not going to show up because no attorney worth anything would bring a lawsuit against this curriculum because they're going to lose, and no one likes to do that.
Cuellar: In a press release yesterday, Texas Freedom Network officials said they don't want school districts dragged into costly lawsuits. Instead, President Kathy Miller would like to see the adoption of Bible curricula that follow guidelines set forth by an interfaith coalition including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Anti-Defamation League.
Last month the Grand Prairie failed to adopt the course offered by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. Board Vice President Michael Grace voted in favor of the course, and says he will support it in the future, despite all the criticism.
Michael Grace, Grand Prairie Independent School District Board Vice President: If they're debating some of the facts on creationism that's fine 'cause that's what the Bible is and that's what the Bible says, just like any curriculum you have. You don't have to believe Darwin's theory of evolution. I don't believe it. You don't have to believe creationism, that's your prerogative, but that's what the Bible says and if that's part of the content of the Bible, then that's part of the curriculum.
Cuellar: Grand Prairie board president Edward Gwynn voted against the curriculum because it came from another board member and didn't go through proper channels.
Edward Gwynn, Grand Prairie ISD board president: I don't believe that the vote will affect the progress of this at all. The vote that was taken was a specific vote to include it in the curriculum for the '05-'06 school year with a particular curriculum selected. That was defeated but certainly the efforts that were currently underway will continue to go forward and I would anticipate that we'll be hearing more about it as a board over the next six months.
Cuellar: Another public school district in Kress, Texas, which in June had approved the Bible class now under scrutiny, reversed its course following the Texas Freedom Network study.
For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.
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