Class Warfare?: Controversial Bible Elective Now Delayed In Oklahoma

The Mustang school board also announced that it will retain the services of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – a sign that it expects litigation over the matter.

Citing “unforeseen delays,” the Green Scholars Initiative has announced that a potentially unconstitutional Bible class will not be introduced in Mustang, Okla., public schools as planned this fall, and will instead delay the class until next January. The Green Scholars Initiative designed the class and is directly funded by the Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby.

Religion News Service reports that the Initiative intends to make further changes to the curriculum’s content in order to correct “overreaching.”

“We have operated on an aggressive timeline to deliver the curriculum for the upcoming school year,” said its representative, Jerry Pattengale. He explained that it’s not the end of the Bible class. “We will continue to work with Mustang and other school districts that have shown interest,” he said.

The Mustang school board also announced that it will retain the services of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – a sure sign that it expects litigation over the matter. Critics, including Americans United, have accused the school board of circumventing Oklahoma’s open meeting laws in order to meet with the Greens about the Bible class.

Although this  isn’t the last we’ll hear of the Bible class, it’s a setback for Steve Green and the Green Scholars Initiative. As I reported previously on this blog, Green recently described the class is the “fourth leg” of his personal Christian ministry. And in a 2013 speech to the National Bible Association, he said, “That’s our goal, so that we can reintroduce this book to this nation. This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught.” Green also has strong ties to disgraced fundamentalist preacher Bill Gothard.

Americans United also obtained a copy of the curriculum, which our legal team is reviewing.

The class seems to be written from a Christian standpoint – and not just any Christian standpoint, either. It’s a peculiarly Protestant perspective, and the influence of Biblical literalism on the text is unmistakable. The Genesis account of human origins is treated as fact, for example. 

“Even more astounding, God placed human beings in a garden full of food he had made for them. This contrasts with the Near Eastern view that the job of humans is to provide food and entertainment for the gods. Everything is different!” it asserts.

Green has also stated, repeatedly, that the class is intended to complement his planned Bible museum in Washington, D.C., which will present the Bible as literal fact.

Mark Chancey, who teaches religious studies at Southern Methodist University, also reviewed the curriculum for the Texas Freedom Network (an AU ally). Chancey, who noted that the version he reviewed had already undergone ten revisions, wrote, “The presence of frequent errors and extensive sectarian bias at this late stage of development raises questions about whether the final product will be significantly better.”

Chancey also concluded that the curriculum treats the Bible as if it is “literally, historically accurate and ‘reliable.’”

“For example, it presents Adam, Eve, and all other biblical characters unambiguously as historical personages,” he wrote. He also argued that the content is riddled with historical errors, and that it exaggerates its scholarly input.

His conclusions suggest that this course is sectarian, and would likely violate the First Amendment if implemented in a public school.

Pattengale told the press that the Initiative plans to correct “overreaching.” But it’s still unclear what he, and other Initiative scholars, consider “overreaching” to be. If their corrections don’t include the removal of sectarian bias from the curriculum, then it’s still not fit for placement in public schools. And the school board’s announcement that they plan to retain the ADF, a bulwark of the Religious Right, doesn’t exactly encourage confidence. Instead, it looks like they’re gearing up for a legal battle.

Here’s hoping this “delay” means that public classrooms in Mustang will be treated as the educational centers they are, rather than trenches in the culture war.