The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has a problem with the truth. Because of that, public schools using the NCBCPS classroom materials could end up having a problem with the law.
On Wednesday an online news journal in Ohio published a letter from an attorney representing the NCBCPS, E. Eric Johnston, to a committee searching for a curriculum local public schools to use for classes about the Bible. Federal courts ruled long ago that public school classes about the influence of the Bible in history and literature are constitutional so long as they aren’t devotional — in other words, they can’t turn a public school classroom into a Sunday school classroom.
A 2005 report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund — written by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University — revealed how poorly the NCBCPS textbook failed to pass that test. The group’s textbook, which was riddled with factual errors and distortions, plainly presented faith claims as history. It also promoted a particular interpretation of the Bible — that of Protestant fundamentalism — over the perspectives of all others, including those of mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews. In short, the National Council’s religiously biased textbook was inappropriate for use in public schools and in pretty much any school — public or private — in which teachers really care about factual accuracy.
Not surprisingly, Johnston’s letter to the Ohio school committee fails to acknowledge those fatal flaws in the NCBCPS textbook. Even worse, however, is that the letter completely misleads the local committee when addressing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the textbook’s use in public schools. For example, this is how Johnston describes a lawsuit in 2007 by parents against the Ector County Independent School District in the West Texas city of Odessa:
“(T)here have been vicious unsupported statements that our textbook has been and is the subject of constitutional litigation. The first case that is usually mentioned is Moreno, et al. v. Ector County Independent School District, No. M0-07-CV-39 (W.D. of TX, 2008). The initial complaint in the lawsuit alleged problems related to The Bible in History and Literature. However, NCBCPS was not a party to the litigation and there was no finding the textbook was improper in any manner. The lawsuit was a legal challenge concerning the practices of teachers in the district. It was alleged that school teachers were proselytizing and teaching improperly using the curriculum. The lawsuit was an ‘as applied’ challenge, meaning that there was nothing wrong with the textbook or the curriculum it presents, but that it was being improperly used. Because the teachers were acting improperly did not make the textbook improper. The lawsuit was resolved on grounds unrelated to the textbook and was dismissed on April 2, 2008.”
Johnston is technically correct that the NCBCPS was not a party to the Odessa lawsuit — parents there sued the school district. But Johnston’s portrayal of what the lawsuit involved is deeply misleading. In fact, the lawsuit specifically calls out the district’s use of the NCBCPS textbook, including here:
“The [Ector County ISD] Bible Course — both as designed by NCBCPS and as implemented by Defendants in two ECISD high schools during the 2006-2007 school year — is not educationally objective, but instead promotes and endorses religion generally and a particular religious interpretation of the Bible specifically.”
Johnston’s claim that “the lawsuit was resolved on grounds unrelated to the [NCBCPS] textbook” is also untrue. The school district agreed to stop using the NCBCPS textbook as a condition of the parents dropping their lawsuit. This is how an Associated Press story reported the agreement at the time:
“The Ector County Independent School District can continue to offer a Bible course but its course work will be developed by a committee of seven local educators appointed by the superintendent. The lawsuit challenged class material produced by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
At issue was a Bible course that teaches the King James version using material produced by the North Carolina group. The course uses the Bible as the students’ textbook.”
We’re really not surprised by Johnston’s misleading letter. The NCBCPS has been trying to hide the truth about the Odessa case ever since the lawsuit was resolved. Now its attorney is simply misleading yet another school district. But we wonder how an organization that claims to teach students about the Bible can so recklessly disregard one of the clear commandments found in Scripture — you know, the one about telling the truth.