Well, that’s not really what the Oklahoma Senate said, but it might as well have. On Thursday the chamber passed a bill that would allow elective courses about the Bible in the state’s public schools. But Oklahoma senators did something really, really foolish: the bill mandates that course materials come from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
We know a lot about that curriculum — and it’s not good.
Federal courts have long made it clear that public schools may teach courses about the influence of the Bible in history and literature — so long as the classes are academic, not devotional, in nature. But the Oklahoma Senate’s bill is an open invitation to Trouble.
A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report in 2005 revealed that the National Council’s absurdly amateurish curriculum — unfortunately, one of the most widely used in the country — was riddled with factual errors and plagiarized passages from various Web sites. (Among the absurdities was one lesson telling students that NASA has evidence of days lost in time — an urban legend NASA had debunked on its Web site. Curriculum writers also identified as an “expert” someone who at one time claimed to have discovered the lost continent of Atlantis and evidence that the Egyptian pyramids were used in antiquity to send radio signals to the Grand Canyon.)
But the study’s author, Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, also found that the National Council’s curriculum promotes an almost exclusively fundamentalist Protestant interpretation of the Bible. The perspectives of Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews and others were often ignored or disparaged.
The curriculum was so bad that the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa (Texas) was sued for adopting it in 2006. To settle the lawsuit, district officials later agreed to use a different curriculum. But the Oklahoma Senate now wants to replicate Ector County ISD’s mistake in public schools across the entire Sooner state.
When the Texas Legislature considered a similar bill in 2007, the proposed legislation didn’t require schools to use the National Council’s curriculum — but it was written in such a way as to make it likely that the curriculum would be widely adopted. The Texas Freedom Network worked with lawmakers to change that. Among the safeguards for religious freedom we succeeded in adding to the bill were standards for teacher qualifications, a requirement for curriculum standards (a requirement arrogantly ignored by the State Board of Education) and provisions against using the class to promote any particular religious perspective over all others.
By requiring adoption of the National Council’s curriculum, however, the Oklahoma bill would turn public schools into Sunday schools across that state. And that would almost certainly lead to expensive lawsuits filed by parents and other taxpayers who think public schools have no business deciding whose religious beliefs to teach in their children’s classrooms.
The bill now moves to the Oklahoma House.
We are proud to note that one of the four Oklahoma senators who voted against the bill on Thursday was Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City. Andrew was a Texas Freedom Network staff member in 2002.