Hobby Lobby’s president Steve Green has sponsored the development of a new Bible curriculum, The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact, that he reportedly hopes thousands of public schools will adopt. The curriculum will be published by Museum of the Bible, a nonprofit organization created by Green to guide the development of a museum that will house his extensive personal collection of Bible-related manuscripts and artifacts. In mid-April the school board of Mustang, located six miles from Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City corporate headquarters, announced that it would teach a pilot version of the course beginning in the fall of 2014.
Today, a new TFN Education Fund report authored by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, finds that the curriculum’s combination of a religious purpose, pervading sectarian bias and frequent factual errors demonstrates that this curriculum has a long way to go before being appropriate for a public school classroom.
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The first independent review by a biblical scholar raises serious concerns about a new curriculum that promoters – particularly Hobby Lobby President Steve Green – hope will combat what they see as ignorance about the Bible among public school students.
“This is a classic example of preaching religious beliefs in the guise of promoting religious literacy,” said Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who reviewed the partial and preliminary curriculum for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. “It’s hard to imagine this curriculum, with its sectarian elements, errors and oddities, was put together by dozens of scholars as claimed.”
Museum of the Bible, a nonprofit created by Green, is publishing the curriculum, The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact. Public schools in Mustang, near Oklahoma City, plan to teach a pilot version this fall.
Chancey’s review reveals that the new curriculum suggests the Bible is literally and historically accurate, promotes faith claims as fact, and advances a sectarian view of the Bible generally favored by fundamentalist Protestants but not people from other faith traditions. All of those issues raise serious constitutional concerns about the curriculum’s use in public schools, he writes.
Moreover, factual errors and idiosyncrasies in the curriculum betray a seriously flawed knowledge of the subject that fails to align with established, mainstream scholarship on the Bible. For example, the curriculum treats Adam and Eve as actual historical figures, suggests that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity provides evidence for the Creation told in Genesis, and bizarrely compares the Book of Exodus to the infamously racist, KKK-glorifying film The Birth of a Nation.
Chancey, a leading academic authority on Bible courses in public schools, has now written four reports on such classes for the TFN Education Fund. Chancey’s reports, including his new review, “Can This Class Be Saved? The ‘Hobby Lobby’ Public School Bible Curriculum,” are available online at www.tfn.org/biblecourses.
TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller said Chancey’s review reveals that this new curriculum suffers from many of the same flaws seen in other public school Bible courses he has reviewed for her organization.
“Well intentioned or not, the writers of this curriculum seem to be confused about the job of public schools,” Miller said. “Families and faith leaders rightly have the responsibility of passing on faith beliefs to children. Public schools shouldn’t be put in the position of promoting anyone’s religious beliefs over those of everybody else.”
The rolling out of the new Bible curriculum comes as Green’s company also battles a new federal requirement that most employers provide coverage for birth control in employee health insurance plans. Green, an evangelical Christian, argues that the requirement violates his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June.