The Good Book Taught Badly?: Okla. School District Approves Hobby Lobby Owner’s Bible Course

As reported by Religion News Service, Green’s curriculum is designed to correspond with his planned Museum of the Bible, which is currently under construction in Washington, D.C.

An Oklahoma school district has approved the use of a Bible curriculum designed by Steve Green, the controversial owner of Hobby Lobby. The Mustang public schools will begin offering the curriculum next academic year.

As reported by Religion News Service, Green’s curriculum is designed to correspond with his planned Museum of the Bible, which is currently under construction in Washington, D.C. Jerry Pattengale, who heads the Green Scholars Initiative and is overseeing the curriculum’s development, said the ultimate goal is put the curriculum in “thousands” of schools.

Little is known publicly about the details of the curriculum. However, in a 2013 speech he delivered to the National Bible Association, Green explained that it’s divided into three sections: the history of the Bible, the story of the Bible, and the impact of the Bible.

Classes about the Bible don’t necessarily violate the separation of church and state. It all depends on what is taught and how it’s taught. Green’s speech indicates that he may have ulterior motives.  

It appears that Green doesn’t intend to simply teach students history.

“The history is to show the reliability of this book,” he told his audience, and added, “When you present the evidence, the evidence is overwhelming.”

And it seems it’s no coincidence that the curriculum is intended for high school students. Green stated that he had originally considered a college-level course but decided on a high school elective instead, “because we wanted to reach as many as possible.”

“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 stated.

No wonder he hopes to place the class in thousands of public high schools.

In the same speech, Green does state the curriculum will be taught in a non-sectarian manner. But in the same breath, he added that this is because he believes the evidence stands for itself. The goal – to prove the Bible correct – remains unchanged.

Pattengale tried to brush off Green’s 2013 remarks, telling the media, “The curriculum may or may not espouse those views. The last people [Green] wanted to hire were scholars who would embellish the facts to support his religious position.”

But it seems obvious from his speech that Green doesn’t believe those facts need to be embellished. He believes they speak for themselves, and that’s what he intends to teach high school students.

If that’s the approach, then this class isn’t intended to teach the Bible. It’s intended to teach Christian apologetics and promote a fundamentalist view of that tome. And there lies the trouble.

Of course, there wouldn’t be an issue if Green, and the Mustang public schools, wanted to create an elective in religious studies. As long as the class is taught in an objective manner, there’s no constitutional violation. But it is unquestionably illegal to teach the Bible as scriptural truth.

Given the content of Green’s speech, his ties to disgraced fundamentalist preacher Bill Gothard, and his ongoing, religiously-motivated legal battle against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, there’s clear evidence that his intention is to proselytize, not to provide an objective overview of a book held sacred by many diverse sects.

The Mustang public schools are, as Religion News Service notes, in Green’s backyard. A billionaire, Green enjoys strong influence in the area and this likely contributed to the school board’s decision.  But as they prepare to implement his Bible curriculum, the board members should remember that the First Amendment applies to their district, as it applies everywhere.  (This old case from Lee County, Fla., is instructive.)

Green’s influence might be mighty, but it won’t trump the Constitution in court.