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OT? Fwd: - "Biblical literacy courses on the rise"

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  • Bob Schacht
    This article was promoted by the Council for Exceptional Children under the headline, Biblical literacy courses on the rise I guess it depends on what you
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2005
      This article was promoted by the Council for Exceptional Children under the
      "Biblical literacy courses on the rise"
      I guess it depends on what you mean by "Biblical Literacy"!
      The original article is accompanied by several photos with long captions.
      To see the original, it's
      online at:
      Registration is free.

      >Elective Bible classes prompt concern
      >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."
      >New battleground?
      >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
      >group's president.
      >"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
      >school board."
      >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
      >Bible curriculum.
      >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
      >religious freedom.
      >"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.
      >E-mail <mailto:dmclemore@...>dmclemore@...
      >Online at:

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