May 17, 2007
A biblical battle
The fine line between learning about religion (a good thing: the more you learn, the less there is to like) and being preached to—and how America’s public schools are walking it. (This is a subscriber-only Wall Street Journal story; highlights below.)
Lori White thinks high school students should study a variety of religions, including Christianity. But the Bible curriculum used in Odessa, Texas, and a growing number of other schools, she says, is aimed at instilling faith, not knowledge.
“It’s a curriculum that proselytizes,” says Ms. White, whose son graduated from Odessa’s Permian High School last year.
The text used in Odessa high schools, developed by the nonprofit National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, represents as fact that the Bible was a “foundational text” in the framing of the U.S., that the King James Bible “remains one of the... most-loved books in the history of the world,” and that “the sun went black” when Jesus was crucified. Critics say that such statements represent the views of some believers, not necessarily scholars.
[T]he spread of Bible instruction is raising questions about the separation of church and state. That is particularly true in school districts that have adopted the National Council program, one of two competing national curricula now available.
The curriculum sold by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council concentrates on the Bible’s role as literature and as an influence on American history. Founder Elizabeth Ridenour says that nearly 400 districts have adopted the National Council curriculum since 1992.
A competing multidenominational curriculum is offered by the Bible Literacy Project, a nonprofit group that gathered a board of scholars to write a student text that discusses the Bible’s books and their influence on Shakespeare, poetry, art and music. Available for the past year, the textbook has mostly received praise from scholars and critics. Charles Stetson, the project’s founder, says it has been adopted by 83 school districts in 30 states.
… “I believe strongly in the separation of church and state,” says Ms. White. “I don’t want my tax dollars spent that way.” She and several other parents say they are working with the American Civil Liberties Union to assess their legal options to stop the Bible classes, and ACLU officials acknowledge that litigation is possible.
… Ms. Ridenour, the National Council president, says several scholars, lawyers and educators collaborated on the text. She declines to name individual authors on the ground that it was a group effort. Mike Johnson, a Louisiana attorney and [National Council] board member, says the curriculum “meets all tests” of constitutionality. “As one of the people who read and gave an editorial viewpoint it does a good job of presenting the Bible objectively,” he says.
Which of course isn’t exactly an objective viewpoint.
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