OT? Fwd: - "Biblical literacy courses on the rise"
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"Biblical literacy courses on the rise"
I guess it depends on what you mean by "Biblical Literacy"!
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>Elective Bible classes prompt concern[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
>While a growing number of districts like Odessa promise to teach, not
>preach, critics fear classes erode line between church and state
>09:11 PM CDT on Saturday, April 30, 2005
>By DAVID McLEMORE / The Dallas Morning News
>ODESSA This hardscrabble town of 90,000 on the West Texas oil patch
>famous for its obsession with high school football is becoming the new
>ground zero in a culture war.
>The Ector County Independent School District unanimously approved an
>elective course in biblical literacy last week, an action underscoring the
>marked increase of such "Bible study" classes nationally. Constitutional
>scholars are concerned that these classes constitute a subtle erosion of
>what they see as the traditional and necessary wall of separation between
>church and state.
>An estimated 49 school districts in Texas use course material offered by
>the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, said its
>president, Elizabeth Ridenour. Nationally, more than 300 school districts
>in 35 states use its curriculum.
>The North Carolina-based organization offers courses in biblical study in
>public schools as part of its commitment to restore religious and civil
>liberties in the nation. The council's board of directors and advisers
>draws heavily on such religious conservatives as evangelist Ben Kinchloe
>of television's The 700 Club and David Barton, a prominent conservative
>author and speaker on church-state separation.
>"The world is watching to see if we will be motivated to impact our
>culture, to deal with the moral crises in our society, and reclaim our
>families and children," Ms. Ridenour wrote in a welcoming message on the
>organization's Web site.
>Odessa school officials say they are walking a narrow path to ensure the
>proposed course meets educational and constitutional requirements.
>"This will be an academic elective on biblical literacy, not a
>devotional," said Odessa Superintendent Wendell Sollis. "We have no
>intention of proselytizing. ...You really have to educate people about
>what you can and can't do."
>But assurances that the course will be voluntary and non-devotional have
>done little to allay the fears of non-Christians and religious moderates
>that the class may evolve into the covert preaching of God's word.
>"There's an awful lot of people in this town convinced that they're going
>to get Jesus taught in the classroom, a tool for evangelism. And that
>concerns people like me," said David Newman, an English professor at
>Odessa College who opposes the new Bible course. He is Jewish.
>"If they want to teach the biblical influences on culture and art, why not
>make it a traditional humanities course that examines all the influences
>on Western culture?" he asked. "If I see this thing becoming more of an
>advocacy course, I can assure you there will certainly be legal action taken."
>While relations between Odessa's 150 Christian churches and its
>non-Christian minority are good, Mr. Newman said his 12-year-old daughter
>has been subjected to some anti-Jewish statements from classmates.
>"They'll ask her why 'your people' killed Jesus. Or if she knows that
>Jesus is her savior," Mr. Newman said. "I don't think it's hate. It's just
>kids being kids. But I worry what will happen if a pronounced Christian
>viewpoint is taught in the class."
>Alfred Brophy, a University of Alabama law professor who teaches American
>legal history, said Odessa may reflect a new battleground for religious
>conservatives who complain God has been taken out of the nation's public
>"This is ground zero in the next culture war," Mr. Brophy said. "They're
>introducing a religious curriculum into the schoolhouse, but it's subtle.
>It's the camel's nose poking under the tent."
>Mostly rural districts
>Roughly 80 percent of the schools using the national council's Bible
>course are small or rural districts, according to Ms. Ridenour, the
>"It's not just gone into the Bible Belt states. It's gone into Alaska,
>Pennsylvania, California," Ms. Ridenour said. "We've already had over
>170,000 students take the course nationwide. It's never been legally
>Ms. Ridenour stressed that the curriculum is designed to help students
>understand the Bible in the context of its influence on culture and the
>arts. She emphasized it is not a course in Bible devotion.
>"You wouldn't learn this in Sunday school class," she said. "How in the
>world could you understand what's going on in the Middle East today
>without introducing the Bible and understanding the background? How can
>they understand Michelangelo's Moses or Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper
>without knowing about the figures that inspired those works of art?"
>Ms. Ridenour said supporters of non-Christian faiths could approach a
>school board and go through the same process as the council.
>"Now the Quran has not had the influence on our society, of course, that
>the Bible has and our founding fathers didn't base things on the Quran,"
>she said. "But it's a free country if anyone would like to approach the
>Judith Schaeffer, deputy legal director of the People for the American Way
>Foundation, said her group plans to monitor the case to see if the
>curriculum Odessa adopts is constitutional.
>"We have no problem with the board's vote the other night," she said. "It
>puts it on our radar screen in the sense that we hope they will do this
>the right way."
>Ms. Schaeffer said her organization is aware that the National Council on
>Bible Curriculum in Public Schools is "running around the country trying
>to get school boards to adopt their material for these courses."
>Ms. Ridenour said her organization does not solicit school districts to
>carry their curriculum. "If people in the district, if it's on their
>hearts to do this, they'll call us."
>The curriculum has not been challenged in court.
>Ms. Schaeffer said another potential problem for school districts is
>finding instructors that are "academically competent" to teach what is
>often a lightning-rod topic.
>"You really shouldn't be teaching the Bible in public schools," she said,
>"unless you have teachers who are qualified to do so."
>Lack of resources
>Earlier this year, schools in Michigan decided not to use the council's
>In January, the school board in Frankenmuth, Mich., ended a yearlong
>debate by turning down the council curriculum as "not academically
>rigorous enough." Frankenmuth Superintendent Michael Murphy told board
>members, "It goes beyond talking about religion and becomes faith-based."
>K.K. Brannies, assistant superintendent of the Brady Independent School
>District in Texas, said her district has offered the council curriculum
>since the late 1990s as an elective and has had no complaints.
>She is surprised that the course is offered in 49 districts in Texas and
>that more are considering it because the opportunity to offer electives is
>dwindling as course requirements increase.
>However, she said she does not see the course "as something that will
>really continue heavily just because of the fact there are so few
>opportunities for any elective classes," Ms. Brannies said. "When we get
>to the new science requirements, the chances of us having to do away with
>it are probably good at some point just because kids won't have room for
>as many electives in their schedule."
>Kathy Miller, President of the Texas Freedom Network, a statewide
>nonprofit group formed to protect religious freedom and individual
>liberties, said there is no inherent problem with studying religion in school.
>She cautioned, however, that schools may unintentionally end up promoting
>a particular religion in the classroom and violate the principles of
>"I think the danger here is that this Bible class could turn a public
>school classroom into a Sunday school classroom," Ms. Miller said. "Many
>school boards have rejected the curriculum because they feared the
>controversy around it, because they feared that it did possibly put them
>in an untenable position."
>The test of a Bible literacy course in Odessa, however, lies with the kids.
>Angie, 17, a senior at Permian High School, won't benefit from the
>proposed Bible course. But she would take it if she could. "I don't think
>it would hurt anyone to study about God's word," she said.
>Across the parking lot, Ray, a junior, is noncommittal. "It's OK, I guess.
>But there's already a lot we have to get done for graduation; there's not
>much room for electives. It's like we'd have to choose between football,
>more science or the Bible."
>Their last names were not used because neither student would give a
>contact number for their parents.
>Nearby, Patricia Clark waited outside Permian High to pick up her
>daughter, Natasha, 16. Mrs. Clark supports the idea of a Bible class.
>"It'll be a good thing, something positive," Mrs. Clark said. "I'm glad to
>see it happen."
>Her daughter has another view.
>"She hasn't said she'd be interested in taking it," Mrs. Clark said.
>"We've talked about it, and she just rolls her eyes."
>Staff writers Diane Jennings in Dallas and Arnold Hamilton in Oklahoma
>contributed to this report.