Public education advocates say a Bible course curriculum recently recommended by four Texas education board members is too evangelistic and that such public school courses should provide a broader perspective of the Bible.
The education board members said in an e-mail that local school districts should make their own decisions in selecting Bible course curricula, but referred specifically to a curriculum developed by the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools.
“We recognize … that the curriculum provided by the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools has been implemented successfully in numerous school districts within the state of Texas for years,” they wrote in the e-mail, according to an Associated Press article.
The e-mail was sent by board members Terri Leo, Barbara Cargill, Cynthia Dunbar and Gail Lowe. Lowe said the e-mail was an effort to “inform and reaffirm that this curriculum has been around for a number of years and has always satisfied” the state’s requirements for electives, according to the Associated Press article.
The National Council curriculum was the basis for a lawsuit filed by parents in Texas’ Ector County School District last year alleging that a Bible course in two Odessa high schools using the study plan violated the religious freedom rights of some students. The curriculum uses the King James Version of the Bible as its main text, according to a Dallas Morning News article.
Ector County school officials settled the lawsuit in March by agreeing to quit using the National Council class materials and switch to a curriculum developed by seven local educators, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Ed Hogan, pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston, said the curriculum moves too quickly to spiritual application of the Bible for modern-day life.
“It does not represent a broad spectrum within the Christian perspective,” Hogan said. “The curriculum needs to be acceptable on broader terms.”
Hogan said he does not oppose public schools offering Bible courses, but he would prefer to see the text incorporated into already existing courses such as history and literature.
“Those on the left have gone to such an extreme that they have white washed text books,” Hogan said. “They are devoid of religion and Christ.”
The Bible is essential to understanding historical events such as the westward expansion of the United States and Mormonism, as well as the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s also important to explain biblical references in literary works such as East of Eden, Hogan said.
Bill Tillman, an ethics professor at Logsdon School of Theology in Texas, said the Bible is “fair game” for use in literature and world history courses, but documents from other world religions should also be included.
“Underneath the attempts to this point (to incorporate Bible courses in public schools) has been a Trojan horse placed there by ultraconservative types who not only miss on biblical interpretation on how to do evangelism and missions, but don’t even come close to understanding the differences between education and indoctrination,” Tillman said.
Jim Huff, a retired Oklahoma City Public Schools social studies teacher, taught a Bible history course and a class on world religions for 20 years.
In addition to the Bible, Huff used two secular examinations of the text: Essentials of Bible History and Bible Reader ”an Interfaith Interpretation, which includes notes from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish traditions.
“Public school classes need more books than just the Bible,” Huff said.
Huff has pushed unsuccessfully for the Oklahoma legislature to adopt state standards for Bible courses that would specify the texts and would set guidelines to ensure that the course focuses on the content of the Bible rather than doctrinal conclusions.
Huff, who is executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said government cannot give the impression that one faith is more important than another.
“If a district or state adopts a religious perspective as an official position, people will say they believe and go along with it but they will have no conviction,” Huff said. “For religion to be deep and meaningful, it has to be personal.”
Students who are exposed to a broad range of perspectives on the Bible can gain a better understanding of their own faiths, he said.
“In a public school setting, students need a scholarly understanding of the historical development of scripture,” Huff said. “When they blend the historical facts of scripture and incorporate that with their own faith tradition, they can make an informed, meaningful faith conclusion.”
Charlotte Tubbs is a freelance writer for EthicsDaily.com.