A Texas public school district voted in early May to offer its students an elective Bible course.
The board of education for the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa unanimously approved the Bible class, but did not choose which one to offer.
“This will be an academic elective on biblical literacy, not a devotional,” Odessa Superintendent Wendell Sollis told The Dallas Morning News.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other civil liberties groups have advised the school district that any religion class must be objective and academic. They specifically urged school officials not to adopt a course promoted by the North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBC).
Critics say the NCBC curriculum is a tool to evangelize students. The group’s president Elizabeth Ridenour has said its agenda is “to expose the kids to the biblical Christian worldview.”
Moreover, the NCBC web site has included statements, such as, “The Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, our educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years.”
Americans United warned the school district in an April 26 letter of the constitutional pitfalls of the NCBC curriculum.
The NCBC board of directors and advisory board are rife with Religious Right leaders, AU’s letter stated. Indeed, “the NCBCPS boards have included at least two Christian Reconstructionists – Howard Phillips and Rus Walton – who advocate an extreme vision of government based on a literal reading of the Bible.”
Ridenour claims that the group’s curriculum is used in hundreds of school districts nationwide and has “never been legally challenged.”
But as AU’s letter to the Ector County school officials points out, the NCBC curriculum has been challenged in federal court. In January 1998, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich in Gibson v. Lee County barred a Florida school district from teaching the second semester of the Bible course, designed to represent New Testament stories as historical fact.
The court found it “difficult to conceive how the account of the resurrection or of miracles could be taught as secular history,” Kovachevich wrote.