Group revises Bible curriculum after criticism
jlsatty at wwisp.com
Thu Sep 22 13:32:43 PDT 2005
Group revises Bible curriculum after criticism
By Robert Marus
ABP Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (ABP)-A group that encourages teaching the Bible as history and
literature in the public schools has revised its curriculum, incorporating
many of the changes recommended by an organization it characterized as
In late August, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools
issued the revision-the second in seven months-of its teaching guide, The
Bible in History and Literature.
National Council leaders released the revision at a Washington press
conference Sept. 9, barely a month after the Texas Freedom Network issued a
lengthy report contending the curriculum has serious constitutional and
academic problems and less than three weeks after the Baptist Standard
published an in-depth examination of the material.
"The best Bible curriculum in the country has just gotten better," Mike
Johnson said in introducing the changes. Johnson, a member of the National
Council board, is also an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, one of
several Religious Right groups with close ties to the National Council.
On Aug. 1, the Texas Freedom Network released a report on the March 2005
revision of the curriculum. Mark Chancey, a religion professor at Southern
Methodist University in Dallas, wrote the report.
Chancey concluded, among other things, that the curriculum "on the whole is
a sectarian document, and I cannot recommend it for usage in a public school
setting. It attempts to persuade students to adopt views that are held
primarily within certain conservative Protestant circles but not within the
scholarly community, and it presents Christian faith claims as history."
The Supreme Court has said that the Bible may be taught in a public-school
setting, but only in regard to its role as an important literary and
historical document. Government promotion of any particular faith's doctrine
violates the First Amendment, the court has said.
In his 33-page report, Chancey pointed out several instances in which the
curriculum and its recommended supplementary materials seemed to favor one
particular doctrinal or interpretive viewpoint regarding the Bible.
At the time, National Council officials lambasted Chancey's report and the
Texas Freedom Network. A statement still posted on the council's website
labeled the network "a radical humanist organization" and said the group was
"desperate to ban one book- the Bible-from public schools."
It also said Chancey's report "cites several passages from the teacher's
guide to the curriculum out of context, and clearly misrepresents the
curriculum's contents and objectives."
The statement concluded: "In spite of the dubious manner in which (Texas
Freedom Network) has attacked the curriculum, (the National Council)
acknowledges that no curriculum is ever perfect. In its quest to continually
improve its curriculum, (the council) has already begun carefully reviewing
the report for any legitimate concerns, such as typographical or citations
errors, and will modify its curriculum as appropriate."
Many of Chancey's recommended changes- including substantive ones-are
reflected in the August revision.
For example, Chancey faulted the curriculum for assuming a Protestant view
of the Bible in the material's very first section, entitled "Introduction to
the Bible." It had asserted that there are 66 books in the entire Bible and
that Scripture has two major divisions-the Old Testament and the New
Jews do not accept the New Testament as part of the Bible. Therefore, it is
accepted practice among biblical scholars to refer to the Old Testament as
the "Hebrew Bible."
In addition, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians accept several books
as part of the biblical canon in addition to those that Protestants accept.
The revised curriculum now begins the section by saying: "The term Bible
means 'books,' but refers to different volumes for different religions. For
example, 'the Hebrew Bible' of the Jewish faith contains 24 books. ... While
the Old Testament of the King James translation and other Protestant Bibles
contains 39 books, it consists of 46 books in the Catholic Bible."
In another example, the new version removes a citation, presented as fact,
of an urban legend that attempted to prove the historical veracity of a
famous passage from the book of Joshua. It had suggested that teachers tell
their students to take note "in particular the interesting story of the sun
standing still in chapter 10. There is documented research through NASA that
two days were indeed unaccounted for in time (the other being in II Kings
A statement on NASA's website says the agency never made any such claim.
Asked if such revisions to the teacher's guide came in reaction to Chancey's
report, a member of the council's board said they were simply part of a
"We're engaged in an ongoing effort to improve the curriculum, and certainly
we considered the comments and criticisms that were made," said Steve
Crampton, an attorney for the Mississippi-based American Family Association.
"But, if anything, I think that the Texas Freedom Network's efforts resulted
in maybe hastening some of the work that was already underway."
Campton refused to retract the council's earlier characterizations of its
critics as "anti-religion extremists."
"I think the lip-service paid by the Texas Freedom Network that they are not
against the teaching of the Bible in general- they've never met a Bible
curriculum they didn't dislike," he said. "They have repeatedly taken the
far-left banner and attempted to squelch virtually every effort to introduce
religion into the public square that has come down the pike in Texas."
Dan Quinn, a Texas Freedom Network spokesman, said that simply wasn't the
"In the first place, this is the only curriculum that we've actually had a
chance to review, so it's kind of hard to imagine that every curriculum
we've seen we've rejected," he said.
Quinn also noted that the network's stated purpose is to defend religious
freedom and other civil liberties. "I think, really, the curriculum that Mr.
Crampton was defending was pretty clear evidence that he and the National
Council have a fundamental misunderstanding of what religious freedom really
means," he said. "It does not mean using the government to impose your own
religious beliefs and values on others."
Chancey said he appreciated the changes. "I'd like to strongly commend the
council for making many of the changes that they did, and the new edition is
definitely a step in the right direction."
However, he added, there are still difficulties- particularly in the
materials assertions about the Bible's purported role in American history.
"It still seems fairly clear that whoever's putting it together doesn't have
a whole lot of background in the material, so I'm skeptical in its present
form that this would make it through the review process of a separate
publisher," Chancey said.
Both Chancey and Quinn noted that they support teaching the Bible in public
schools, as long as it's done in an academically rigorous and
constitutionally appropriate way. They pointed to a forthcoming curriculum,
aimed at high-school students, from the Bible Literacy Project.
A statement on the Bible Literacy Project website says the curriculum was
assembled according to the standards of a consensus statement on the Bible
in public schools endorsed by a wide variety of evangelical, mainline
Protestant, Jewish and other groups as well as the federal Department of
Education. Due to be released Sept. 22, the curriculum also will be subject
to scholarly review.
Joel L. Sogol
Attorney at Law
811 21st Ave.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35401
email: jlsatty at wwisp.com
Ben Franklin observed that truth wins a fair fight -- which is why we have
evidence rules in U.S. courts.
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