Archive for the ‘Bible in schools’ Category

NCBCPS Is Still Hiding the Truth

February 23, 2012

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.

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Chuck Norris, the Bible and Newt Gingrich

January 20, 2012

You just can’t make this stuff up. A little background:

Back in 2007, actor Chuck “Walker, Texas Ranger” Norris attacked the Texas Freedom Network because we had pointed to dangerous flaws in proposed legislation requiring that Texas public schools teach classes about the Bible. Calling TFN “paranoid,” Norris falsely argued that we were “fighting against the very positions and purposes for which our Founding Fathers raised up this country.” Fortunately, the bill passed only after we succeeded in adding to it nearly all of the safeguards for religious freedom we had proposed.

In any case, the year before — in 2006 — Norris and his wife had also joined the board of directors of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. “There has been a great social regression since the Bible was removed from our schools,” that right-wing evangelical organization claims on its website.

Of course, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support such an absurd claim. But that hasn’t stopped the National Council, Norris and other religious-righters from trying to claim the moral high ground in the culture wars they declared long ago.

Then today Norris endorsed thrice-married, serial adulterer Newt Gingrich for president. And he did so the day after Gingrich’s second wife said on national television that Gingrich had asked her — before their divorce — for an open marriage so that he could continue carrying on an affair with the woman who later became his third wife.

So tell us again, Chuck: what’s the source of the “social regression” you see in America?

Listen Up, Houston

February 19, 2011

Our friends at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University have asked us to extend an invitation to TFN members and supporters in the Houston-area to attend this event on Thursday:

Educating for a “Christian America”?
Bible Courses, Social Studies Standards
and the Texas Controversy

with
Mark A. Chancey, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Religious Studies,
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences,
Southern Methodist University

James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Thursday, February 24, 2011
6:30 pm
Kelly International Conference Facility
James A. Baker III Hall
Rice University

The event is free and open to the public, but they do ask that you register to reserve your seat beforehand (which you can do by clicking here).

Not only is the topic timely and relevant, we can attest firsthand that you won’t find a finer scholar or better speaker than Dr. Chancey, who has collaborated  with the Texas Freedom Network on two groundbreaking studies evaluating public school Bible courses.

If you have a free evening on Thursday, you owe it to yourself to head over to the campus of Rice University and check it out. (And if you can’t make it, it looks like the Baker Institute will be live-streaming the presentation here.)

Oklahoma Senate Says: ‘Sue Our Schools!’

March 5, 2010

Well, that’s not really what the Oklahoma Senate said, but it might as well have. On Thursday the chamber passed a bill that would allow elective courses about the Bible in the state’s public schools. But Oklahoma senators did something really, really foolish: the bill mandates that course materials come from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.

We know a lot about that curriculum — and it’s not good.

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Rives Campaign Still Not Telling the Truth

March 1, 2010

We told you last month how Randy Rives is playing fast and loose with the truth in his campaign to unseat Texas State Board of Education incumbent Bob Craig in tomorrow’s Republican Primary. Yesterday Rives’ campaign continued to distort the truth on a key issue from the candidate’s past — the decision by the Ector County (Odessa)  Independent School District board of trustees, then headed by Rives, to adopt a Bible course curriculum that got the district sued.

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Talking Points

December 8, 2009

From today’s TFN News Clips:

“This is a seed sowing ministry. God does the harvesting Himself.”

— Bill Spencer, a teacher and football coach in Tennessee’s Hamilton County public school district, discussing his district’s privately funded Bible education program. Spencer, who also coaches football, said he believes God called him to teach Bible history.

Stay informed with TFN News Clips, a daily digest of news about politics and the religious right. Subscribe here.

The Good Book Goes to School

September 25, 2009

Two years ago, the state of Texas passed a law encouraging — but NOT mandating — elective Bible courses in public schools. (TFN and other religious and civil liberties groups worked very hard to make sure this new law included a few common-sense safeguards that would prevent teachers from turning such courses into Sunday school classes that favored one interpretation of the Bible over others. A 2006 TFN Education Fund report authored by Dr. Mark Chancey of SMU revealed that existing public school Bible courses were rife with such problems.)

Predictably, the pious lawmakers who were so anxious to introduce the Bible into the classroom quickly declared “mission accomplished” when the bill passed and left school districts and teachers with the difficult task of figuring out how to implement these courses. Worse, the Texas Legislature failed to appropriate any money for teacher training (though the law specifies that such training is a prerequisite to offering Bible courses), and the State Board of Education neglected to provide any curriculum guidelines for teachers who wish to construct an appropriate course (again, though the law specifies that such curriculum standards be adopted).

The new law went into effect earlier this month, and surprise, surprise: school districts around the state are confused about what the law means and are nervous about satisfying its requirements. Wow. Who could have predicted that?

Luckily, the ACLU of Texas has ridden to the rescue. Last week, they published a simple fact sheet that helps school districts, parents and students understand how to navigate the thorny issues surrounding religion in Texas public school curricula. Among the important clarifications this document provides:

• The Act grants Texas public high schools the authority to offer an elective course in the history and literature of the Bible, but does
not require that they offer such a course.

• Public schools can teach about the Bible in an objective and academic manner, “as part of a secular program of education.” For
instance, classes may examine the Bible from a literary or historical perspective.

• Public schools cannot teach about the Bible when they lack a secular purpose for doing so, the primary effect of the class is to
advance religion, or the class fosters excessive entanglement between government and religion.

• Ask yourself, “Does the course teach the Bible or teach about the Bible?” Theological study of the Bible or other religious texts
violates the Establishment Clause, while objective study about such texts does not.

• Teachers cannot present religious doctrine to their students as a means of proselytizing or promoting a particular faith, or
promoting religion over non-religion.

TFN commends this excellent resource to any school district that is confused about the new law — and to any parents who want to be sure that the religious freedom of their children is respected at school (something ALL parents should be concerned about).

Kudos to our friends at the ACLU of Texas for picking up the ball our state policy-makers dropped. And isn’t it a sweet irony that the very group religious conservatives constantly criticize for suing school districts is doing more to keep schools out of court than the far-right demagogues who harass them?

Olbermann vs. the Texas State Board of Ed

August 18, 2009

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last night named the Texas State Board of Education the day’s “Worst Person in the World” for requiring that Texas public schools teach about the Bible. Check out a video clip here. (The clip begins with a commercial and two runners-up to the “Worst Person in the World.”)

In truth, it’s a bit more complicated that Olbermann suggests. First, the law on Bible classes is a product of the Texas Legislature in 2007, not a requirement of the State Board of Education. The Texas Freedom Network succeeded in getting the legislation amended so that public schools would not be required to offer separate courses about the Bible. The Texas attorney general has said, however, that the law requires public high schools to provide instruction about the Bible’s influence in history and literature somewhere in the curriculum.

TFN also succeeded in getting various safeguards for religious freedom in the bill. Those safeguards, if obeyed, would keep instruction about the Bible from turning into opportunities to evangelize in public schools.

Still, the State Board of Education deserves a heap of criticism. One of the law’s key safeguards for religious freedom is a requirement that the state board adopt specific curriculum standards for schools that choose to offer Bible courses. The purpose of that requirement is to provide guidance to schools on how to teach about the Bible’s influence in history and literature without turning public schools into Sunday schools. But the state board threw school disricts under the bus by deliberately adopting vague, very general guidelines that offer no help for districts trying to create appropriate courses. No surprise.

What Happened to ‘Thou Shalt Not Lie’?

June 12, 2008

The Free Market Foundation, the Plano-based Texas affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, has a new pitch for donations — and don’t expect much in the way of truth.

Near the top of the list of whoppers in Free Market’s letter is a claim of victory in a lawsuit over a Bible class offered by the Ector County (Odessa) Independent School District in West Texas. “The district will permanently have a Bible course, with the Bible as the textbook, and may use additional outside resources as well,” Free Market crows in its letter. “Our victory was a huge setback for the ACLU’s national plans.”

Well, no. The American Civil Liberties Union sought to forbid the school district from using an error-riddled, blatantly sectarian Bible curriculum that promotes the religious views of Protestant Christian fundamentalists over everybody else’s. The ACLU succeeded. During mediation, school officials agreed to drop the curriculum of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools and develop an alternative set of class materials. So long as the district uses a curriculum that neither promotes nor attacks anyone’s religion, the district may continue to offer the course. (The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a report about the National Council’s dreadful curriculum in 2005.)

But don’t bother correcting Free Market Foundation — it’s too busy peddling a lie for donations.

Of course, the group’s silly letter doesn’t stop there. Recipients also learn that “one nationally-known pastor just wrote an article entitled ‘The Gay Activists Are Headed for the Churches’ describing their plans to protest, infiltrate and change churches, specifically naming a number of Texas churches on their list to target first.” Really? What “nationally-known pastor” said that? Free Market’s letter doesn’t say. What gay activists? We don’t know that either. Well, what churches have been targeted by these devious gays? They’re not saying, apparently. Sigh. What’s with all the secrets? Well, we suppose donors can rest assured that Free Market will be guarding our state’s churches from the alleged lavendar hordes set to march soon into the Lone Star State.