MUSTANG, Okla. — An Oklahoma school board has dropped its plans to offer an elective Bible course proposed by the president of the popular craft chain Hobby Lobby following objection from a self-proclaimed atheist organization and a church-state separation group.
As previously reported, the Mustang School Board had agreed in April to move forward with the “Museum of the Bible” curriculum presented by Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and overseer of the traveling Bible exhibit “Passages.” Green had introduced the course to the school board last fall, explaining to those present that he would like to offer an introductory course on “the Old and New Testament’s impact on society.”
He had been invited by Mustang School District Superintendent Sean McDaniel to speak about the proposed class for Mustang High School, and 170 students selected the course as their first choice for an elective when polled about the matter.
But the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) took issue with the course, stating that it was unconstitutional.
“The materials show a clear Christian bias, treat the Bible as historically accurate and true in all respects and make theological claims,” FFRF wrote to the district earlier this year.
It asserted that the course was “bias” because it cited God’s pleasant attributes, such as “faithful and good,” “gracious and compassionate,” “ever-present help in times of trouble” and “righteous judge,” but not those that the organization deemed unpleasant. FFRF also disliked a sentence in the curriculum that read, “[W]e can conclude that the Bible, especially when viewed alongside other historical information, is a reliable historical source.”
“Clearly, Hobby Lobby and the Greens are trying to convert children to their particular brand of Christianity,” said attorney Andrew Seidel. “There is nothing scholarly, fair or balanced about the curriculum.”
Working alongside AUSCS and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), FFRF then filed a freedom of information request to obtain documents that would show the level of the school board’s involvement in the curriculum. Following its second request, the groups received an email from McDaniel, outlining that the district had dropped its plans to offer the course.
“[T]he topic of a Bible course in the Mustang School District is no longer a discussion item nor is there a plan to provide such a course in the foreseeable future,” he wrote, according to reports. “All students who were pre-enrolled in the elective had their schedules changed to a Humanities course or they were afforded the opportunity to select another elective.”
The groups applauded the cancellation of the class in statements issued this week.
“Education officials in Mustang did the wise thing,” said Barry Lynn, an ordained minister and executive director of AUSCS. “Objective study about religion in public schools is permissible, but this curriculum was essentially an extended Sunday School lesson.”
But Green doesn’t seem to be phased by the development and is open to other districts across the country.
“We understand Mustang’s decision to withdraw the new, elective Bible course from consideration,” said course representative and editor Jerry Pattengale. “Museum of the Bible remains committed to providing an elective high school Bible curriculum and continues work on an innovative, high-tech course that will provide students and teachers with a scholarly overview of the Bible’s history, narrative and impact.”
As previously reported, Green is simultaneously working on opening a museum in Washington, D.C., which will also focus on the Bible and similar artifacts. Last October, the entrepreneur announced that he had obtained “the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found” and would add it to the D.C. collection. The Greens have over 40,000 pieces to their name, which they began collecting in 2009.
“We didn’t buy them because we’re collectors; we bought them because we wanted to tell the Bible story,” he told the Baptist Press. “The material we have to make a museum with trumps any museum that’s there [in D.C.]. Our story is the most incredible story to be told.”
Portions of the Dead Sea scrolls, a historic translation of the Psalms to Middle English, tracts from the reformer Martin Luther and a copy of John Wycliffe’s New Testament are all expected to be included.