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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind



May 8, 2007. The Texas Freedom Network announced this evening that the Texas House has just stopped an effort to strip safeguards from a controversial bill on high school Bible study courses. The House move follows efforts yesterday by the bill's sponsor Rep. Warren Chisum to remove those safeguards and make the courses mandatory. Continue

April 17, 2007: Please see our follow-up to this report, which includes excerpts of testimony and an interview with the mayor of Brazoria, which has launched a drive to reinstitute prayer in the public schools. Click here.

April 12th: Updated with reports of the second round of hearings on the HB1287 and a report on another religion-in-schools bill. Click here.

Texas Legislation Would Mandate Bible Course Elective in Schools

Bill appears structured to accommodate Christian Right curriculum

by JewsOnFirst.org, April 6, 2007

Links to documents and articles cited in this report immediately follow it.

Texas legislators are moving full speed ahead with a bill mandating elective Bible classes in the state's public high schools that appears crafted to facilitate use of a fundamentalist Protestant curriculum. Jewish groups have opposed that sectarian curriculum, but they were unable to testify at a hearing scheduled during Passover.

The bill is moving at a time of heightened interest in public school Bible classes sparked by a new book advocating such courses and a Time Magazine cover story about it.

Texas House Bill 1287 requires all school districts in the state to establish "elective courses in the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments eras." It also requires the use of those two books as texts.

Specifications tailor-made for religious right curriculum
This configuration is made-to-order for a Christian right organization's sectarian curriculum, according to the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group on religious freedom issues. The network's Communication Director Dan Quinn told JewsOnFirst that Georgia legislators used a similar strategy last year to side-step efforts by Democratic lawmakers to mandate a relatively moderate text and the Texas bill "is designed for that" strategy.

   Time compares curricula   

In its April 2nd cover story, Time Magazine offered this comparison of the curriculum of the religious right National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools and the Bible Literacy Project's textbook, The Bible and its Influence, beginning with the moderate text's author, Chuck Stetson:

He is a graduate of [Watergate felon and prison evangelist Chuck] Colson's Wilberforce Centurion project, a study group pledged to "restore our culture by effectively thinking, teaching and advocating the Christian world view as applied to all of life." Yet he claims his commitment to his textbook's constitutionality determined its secularity. In late 2005 he unveiled The Bible and Its Influence, which was vetted by 40 religious and legal scholars, including Jews, Protestants and a Roman Catholic bishop. Meant to be read alongside a Bible, the book's 373 oversize pages provide a clearly written--if selective--theme-and-style analysis of key passages in most of the biblical books. Its sidebars--"Cultural Connections," "Historical Connections"--do much of the heavy lifting in transforming a Bible commentary into a textbook.

It seems more legally palatable than its competition. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which has offered its curriculum since 1993, claims a bigger market (382 schools in 37 states) than the newcomer (85 school districts in 30 states). But its 1999 edition reportedly recommended materials from something called the Creation Evidence Museum; a "question for reflection" in the 2005 version suggested that the logistics of Noah's Ark would have been more manageable if some of the animals were babies or hibernating. In 2002 a Florida district court ruled unconstitutional a course that critics claim was loosely based on its New Testament portion (the Council denies a connection). Its spokespeople claim it is refining itself as it goes and its most recent edition, which came out last month, eliminates much literalist bias--but still devotes 18 lines to the blatantly unscientific notion that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

The North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) promotes a teacher's guide with a curriculum widely criticized as exclusively conservative Protestant. The NCBCPS curriculum calls for students to use the Old and New Testaments as textbooks.

The more moderate Bible Literacy Project distributes a textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, which has been endorsed by The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress, along with some mainstream Christian groups.

"Because we have a moral standard"
In testimony to the Texas House Education Committee last week, the author of HB 1287, Republican Rep. Warren Chisum (pictured at left), revealed an evangelizing interest in the legislation. "If we don't have a moral people, our laws are not sufficient to govern an immoral body of people," he said, according to an editorial in the San Antonio Express-News.

He also said: "I would hope that we get a better-prepared student to go out into the world and understand what they believe, ... how it's [this country] put together, why we are different from some others on this planet.

"The United States doesn't have more resources, but we do better. A lot of it's because of what's written in that book, because we have a moral standard. Not everybody has a moral standard," Chisum added, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

As chair of the chamber's appropriations committee, Chisum is the second most important member of the Texas House. In February he circulated a memo to all his colleagues condemning evolution as a long-secret Jewish religious text (information he obtained from the fixedearth.com website).

Bill's co-author does not believe in church-state separation
Chisum's co-author and fellow Republican, Rep. Leo Berman of Tyler told a local television station he does not believe in the separation of church and state. Reported KLTV:

Representative Leo Berman says, "Today, with Christian symbols being taken out of everything, off our county squares, manger scenes, crosses, I think it's time that we put something back, and give kids who want to study the Old and New Testament an option on campus to actually elect that to study."

"I don't believe there's such a thing as the separation of church and state. In fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution actually calls on the United States Congress to make sure, to ensure that people are allowed to practice their religion," says Berman.

Berman recently gained notoriety by proposing the denial of all government services to the citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

The Education Committee's hearing on the Bible study bill was on April 3rd -- the second day of Passover, so representatives of Jewish organizations were not able to testify. The committee hastened to make amends by scheduling a second day of hearings -- on April 10th, the conclusion of the Passover holiday.

Subsequently, the committee rescheduled the second hearing to April 12th. The committee's meeting notice here mentions the April 10th date in a note at the bottom:

Testimony on House Bill 1287 will also be taken on Tuesday, April 10, to ensure that persons participating in religious observations on April 3 have the opportunity to testify on this bill.

A microcosm of the problem
Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network called the scheduling snafus a "microcosm of the problem" posed by the Bible study mandate. "If the legislators aren't sensitive to diversity in the population," he asked, "how can we expect teachers to be sensitive to the diversity in their classes?"

The Texas Freedom Network published a study last year of the two dozen bible courses being taught in Texas public schools. According to Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler, Texas, who works with the network (and is a member of the JewsOnFirst Advisory Board), "We found out that it's never taught correctly." He cited a test question in one course that asked: "What does it mean to say that the Bible was endorsed by Christ?"

Katz told JewsOnFirst that he supports proper teaching about the Bible, although he opposes mandating courses, as HB 1287 does.

He said he wasn't really blaming the school district where the endorsement question appeared on the quiz as much as illustrating that teacher training would be required to equip Texas' 1,000-plus school districts to offer the Bible courses.

Katz also expressed concern that teachers will have difficulty surmounting their grounding in "replacement theology," in which the Old Testament is viewed as a series of prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament. In this theology, said Katz, "The Old Testament is not understood as a text important to the Jewish people."

   Televangelist Hagee    trashes moderate text

In statements quoted by USA Today (March 7, 2007), Pastor John Hagee, currently the most prominent Christian Zionist leader in the US, disparaged a textbook approved by Jewish organizations for use in public high school courses on the bible. Hagee reportedly called the book, The Bible and its Influence, "a masterful work of deception, distortion and outright falsehoods" planting "concepts in the minds of children which are contrary to biblical teaching."

According to USA Today, "Hagee wrote to the Alabama legislature opposing adoption of the text, citing points such as discussion questions that could lead children away from a belief in God. Example: Asking students to ponder if Adam and Eve got 'a fair deal as described in Genesis' would plant the seed that 'since God is the author of the deal, God is unfair.'"

According to the paper "Hagee prefers the Bible itself as a textbook for Bible classes, used with a curriculum created by a group of conservative evangelicals, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, based in Greensboro, N.C."

USA Today quoted the publisher of the more moderate text saying that changes had been made to sections he cited. However, two weeks later, the second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (not Hagee's denomination) issued a news release saying that Hagee's concerns remain unaddressed.

Wrote Second Vice President Wiley Drake: "As Dr. Hagee said about the Bible Literacy Project textbook, 'distortions, deceptions and falsehoods never produce moral, emotional, political or intellectual health.'"

And then, expressing his own "concerns," Drake wrote: "This is especially true when the Bible is compromised with liberal interpretations, justification of communism, and implications that God's chosen people were deceptive liars."

The Texas Freedom Network has not endorsed HB 1287. But it is proposing changes to the current language, according to Quinn. One of the network's proposed improvements, he said, would add a requirement that the state monitor the implementation of its mandate.

The Texas Freedom Network is recommending that key, common-sense safeguards be added to H.B. 1287, including appropriate training for teachers, including training in the First Amendment and strong language prohibiting use of the classes for proselytizing. The network wants the mandate to districts to be removed from the bill. According to Quinn, they also advocate removing the requirement that the Bible itself serve as the primary textbook.

The Texas Freedom Network's recommendations have been widely reported by Texas papers, at least two of which carried editorials opposing HB 1287.

Christian right group's extremist backers
The NCBCPS, the group that advocates using the Bible's two testaments as texts accompanied by the fundamentalist Protestant teacher's guide that it distributes, is closely connected to some of the most extreme groups and individuals on the religious right. A banner that briefly appears as its homepage loads (see the screenshot below) shows sponsorship by the American Family Association and the Center for Reclaiming America.

The full name of the latter organization is the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. It is part of the empire of Florida televangelist D. James Kennedy, one of the religious right's most forthright theocrats. (See our recent coverage here.)

The Mississippi-based American Family Association is best known for its virulent homophobia and its boycott of Ford Motor Company over the company's ads in gay and lesbian publications.

On its homepage the NCBCPS insists its curriculum is suitable for secular schools. It then uses two code words of the Christian right: reclaiming, as in reclaiming America for Christ, and restoring, a prevalent religious right reference to the mischievous notion that the United States was once a Christian theocracy.

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.

Please help us to restore our religious and civil liberties in this nation.

A cursory glance at the NCBCPS curriculum excerpt posted (here) on the the group's website, revealed three glaring problems.

  • Use of the King James version of the Bible, rather than more contemporary versions, confines the discussion to the language favored by the Christian right. The King James English is foreign, thus distracting, to students. Minimally, a nonsectarian curriculum would be expected to include side-by-side the New Jewish Publication Society and Revised Standard versions.
  • The NCBCPS curriculum also makes problematic use of the 22nd chapter of Genesis, calling the unit dealing with it the "Sacrifice of Isaac." Sacrifice is the Christian term. Jews refer to it as the "Binding of Isaac" and understand it to mean that God is teaching the rejection of human sacrifice.
  • When the curriculum takes up the New Testament there is no corollary consideration of parallel developments in Jewish religious expression, such as the Mishna.

Book on biblical literacy makes waves
HB 1287 is progressing just as publications across the country are featuring Prof. Stephen Prothero's new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- and Doesn't. Prothero chairs the religion department at Boston University.

His book makes the point -- reinforced by a snappy little quiz, which is included in most of the articles -- that Americans are surpassingly ignorant about religion in general and the Bible in particular. Time Magazine featured the book on the cover of its April 2nd issue.

In a recent opinion article in the Los Angeles Times, Prothero presents "biblical literacy" -- and public school classes to achieve it -- as a weapon against the political excesses of the religious right.

Biblical illiteracy is not just a religious problem. It is a civic problem with political consequences. How can citizens participate in biblically inflected debates on abortion, capital punishment or the environment without knowing something about the Bible? Because they lack biblical literacy, Americans are easily swayed by demagogues on the left or the right who claim — often incorrectly — that the Bible says this about war or that about homosexuality.

One solution to this civic problem is to teach Bible classes in public schools. By Bible classes I do not mean classes in which teachers tell students that Jesus loves them or that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, but academic courses that study the Bible's characters and stories as well as the afterlife of the Bible in literature and history.

But the Christian right is not pushing Bible courses as cultural enrichment. It is pushing the courses, in particular the curriculum of the fundamentalist NCBCPS, as part of its agenda to impose its brand of religion throughout society.

The religious right is anti-science, anti-culture, anti-enlightenment. A glance at the sidebar "Televangelist Hagee trashes moderate text," which quotes criticism of the relatively moderate Bible and its Influence, shows the frightening narrowness of the religious right.

The religious right wants schools to "teach" the Bible the same way it wants schools to teach abstinence-only, to teach that homosexuality is sinful, and to ban Halloween as "pagan."

David Van Biema, author of the Time article, missed this point altogether, when he wondered if conservative Christian teachers could be relied on to teach the moderate Bible and its Influence course evenhandedly.

Concerns about whether a Bible Belt Christian teacher could in good conscience teach a religiously neutral Bible course also plagued me. Was high school Bible study one of those great ideas that vaporizes when exposed to air?

Van Biema, Time's senior religion writer, determined that the one teacher whose class he visited was able to conduct the class without exposing her own conservative Christian beliefs. But he and Prothero, whom he interviews for the article, concede that teachers won't always avoid preaching.

Serving the religious right's agenda
Religious right publications are celebrating Prothero's book and the attention paid to it. The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, one of the sponsors of the NCBCPS, currently has on its website a summary, dated March 28th, of the Time article, which concludes:

Still, it is exciting to see such a piece published in a major American publication. And the Time piece was not the only treatment of the issue. In a recent L.A. Times piece entitled “We Live in a Land of Biblical Idiots,” Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero makes the case that an understanding of the Bible can enhance the civic lives of all Americans, since many of the day’s civic discussion revolve around issues that are biblically inflected. He laments the lack of such understanding in contemporary culture.

He concludes his piece saying, “What makes sense is one Bible course for every public high school student in the U.S. This is not a Christian proposal…It serves our young people and our public life.”

As Christians, we understand the significance of the Bible in our daily discourse, and to the general education of the youth. Most likely, any Bible curriculum in public schools that sought to evangelize would likely be deemed “unconstitutional,” but we ought not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Trusting that it is not man’s effort that will save souls, but rather God’s doing through the Holy Spirit working through the Scripture that gives belief, any curriculum which teaches the Bible can still achieve redemptive ends while truly educating the masses.




April 12th: Updated with links to new reports. Click here.

Texas legislation would mandate Bible Study elective

Texas Freedom Network Applauds House Committee Action on Bible Class Bill
Public Education Committee Adds Responsible Safeguards to H.B. 1287 to Protect Religious Freedom and School Districts from Legal Jeopardy

News Release, Texas Freedom Network, April 19, 2007

The Texas Freedom Network today applauded the work of the House Public Education Committee, which added key safeguards to a bill calling for Bible classes in Texas public high schools.

"These committee members clearly understood that families and churches, not the government, should teach our children what to believe about the Bible," TFN President Kathy Miller said. "They voted to give the Bible the respect it deserves and we trust that the full House will show the same care and diligence when it takes up the bill." Continue

Texas House Committee Has Yet to Vote on Bill Requiring Bible as Textbook

Associated Press, FoxNews.com, April 4, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas — A state House committee took no action on a bill to require school districts to offer an elective high school-level courses on the Old and New Testaments and use Bibles as text books.

The House Public Education Committee considered the bill at a hearing Tuesday, but took no vote on the measure sponsored by Republican state Representative Warren Chisum. Continue.

House Bill Proposes that Public Schools Teach Bible as Textbook

The Tyler Paper (Tyler, Texas), April 3, 2007

DALLAS (AP) -- A Texas legislator wants to require the state's nearly 1,700 public school districts to teach the Bible as a textbook, ''not a worship document.''

The House Public Education Committee was set late Tuesday to consider a bill by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, mandating high schools to offer history and literacy courses on the Old and New Testaments. The courses would be elective. Continue.

Texas House Bill 1287
"AN ACT relating to public school elective courses in the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments eras"

Key language in the bill requiring high schools to offer a Bible course as an elective states:

(f) The board of trustees of a school district may recommend which version of the Old or New Testament may be used in a course offered by the district under this section, except that:
(1) the teacher of the course may not be required to adopt the board's recommendation and may use the recommended version or another version; and

(2) a student may not be required to use a specific version as the sole text of the Old or New Testament and may use as the basic textbook a different version of the Old or New Testament from that chosen by the board of trustees or the teacher.

(g) A course offered under this section:
(1) must be taught in an objective and nondevotional manner that does not attempt to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the Judeo-Christian biblical materials or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions other than the Judeo-Christian tradition;

(2) may not include teaching of a religious doctrine or a sectarian interpretation of the Old or New Testament or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions other than the Judeo-Christian tradition; and

(3) may not disparage or encourage a commitment to a set of religious beliefs.

Click here to read the bill.

You can find the history of the bill and links to additional information about it here.

Bill to require Bible class

Joann Livingston, Waxahachie Daily Light, April 5, 2007

Austin - Public high schools would be required to offer an elective course on the Bible under legislation authored by state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who serves as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Four other representatives have signed on as authors, with an additional 43 signed on as co-authors.

If approved, the measure would go into effect the start of the 2007-2008 school year and require the state’s nearly 1,700 high schools to offer elective courses "in the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments eras." Continue.

Lawmaker wants Bible classes mandated in public schools

By Matt Curry, Associated Press, The Houston Chronicle, April 3, 2007

Dallas - A Texas legislator wants to require the state's nearly 1,700 public school districts to teach the Bible as a textbook, "not a worship document."

The House Public Education Committee late Tuesday considered -- but didn't vote on -- a bill by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, mandating high schools to offer history and literature courses on the Old and New Testaments. The courses would be elective.

The idea of teaching the Bible in school seems to be undergoing a revival nationally. Two literature classes on the Bible are included on a list of state-approved courses that Georgia public schools could choose to offer beginning next year. Some critics say it would be the first state to take an explicit stance endorsing and funding biblical teachings. Continue.

Proposed Bill on Bible Classes Could Endanger Religious Freedom, Put Schools in Legal Jeopardy

News release, Texas Freedom Network, April 3, 2007

AUSTIN – Proposed legislation mandating that every Texas public high school offer courses on the Bible could threaten the religious freedom of students and put school districts in legal jeopardy, academics and advocates of religious liberty said today.

Legislators should make sure teachers and school administrators have the guidance and resources to teach classes on the Bible in a way that respects the faiths of all families in the district, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. Continue.

No 'A' for effort on Texas Bible class plan

Linda P. Campbell, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 5, 2007

Texas lawmakers shouldn't be asking, "What would Jesus do?" but rather, "What makes sense for Texas students?"

And a bill insisting that every one of the state's 1,031 school districts set up elective classes on the Bible doesn't make sense.

The reasons aren't rooted in hostility toward religion. Continue.

Editorial: Bible a worthy subject, but objectivity elusive

San Antonio Express-News, April 5, 2007

The editorial calls HB 1287 a "slippery slope" and asks "where does the study end and proselytizing begin?" The editorial also says:

The bill calls for objectivity, but [bill sponsor Rep. Warren] Chisum speaks with a devotion that undermines that notion. "If we don't have a moral people, our laws are not sufficient to govern an immoral body of people," he said.

Please click here for the editorial.

House to study Bible classes
Old and New testaments would be primary text

By Jason Embry, The Austin American-Statesman, April 04, 2007

Every public high school in Texas would offer elective courses based on the Bible under legislation pushed by a key lawmaker.

House Bill 1287, written by Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, calls for all school districts to offer separate electives on the literature and history of the Old Testament and New Testament eras if there is sufficient interest, which means 15 students wanting to take the class, said Chisum, R-Pampa. Students would not be required to take it. Continue.

Reading, Writing, and Religion
Teaching the Bible in Texas Public Schools

Texas Freedom Network, September 13, 2006

An explosive new report by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund details serious problems found in most Bible courses offered in Texas public schools. It also offers school districts recommendations about how to create courses that are academically, ethically and legally appropriate. Click here for the Texas Freedom Network's report, a summary, a news release and additional resources.

Bible In The Public Schools
Presentation for the Texas Freedom Network

by Rabbi Neal Katz, Congregation Beth El, Tyler, Texas, (JewishTyler.com) September 13, 2006

Rabbi Neal Katz was one of several clergy speaking at a news conference to announce the publication of Reading, Writing and Religion, a report by the Texas Freedom Network on the serious problems with Bible courses taught in Texas public schools.

While some Texans see their state's "religious variety as joyful," said Katz, "others are determined to marginalize non-Christian faiths in whatever way they can - including inside of our public schools. As we have learned from the Texas Freedom Network's report on how Bible is taught in Texas public schools, it is all too clear that many non-Christians are learning about the Bible with a decidedly pro-Christian bias." Click here for the full text of Rabbi Katz's presentation.

National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools

National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools Board Of Directors and Advisory Board

This body includes representatives of religious right groups and elected officials. Click here.

Public Schools Adopting Bible Curriculum - Yours Can Too!

Website of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, September 10, 2003

The American Family Association is now working in cooperation with the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) to return Bible curriculum to the public high schools of America, on campus, during school hours, for credit with the Bible as the textbook. The NCBCPS has had great success with school districts over the past eight years with this curriculum; and over 153,000 students have already taken this course nationwide.

The Supreme Court says that it is legal to teach Bible curriculum, as does the National Secretary of Education. Continue.

Bringing The Bible Back To School

by Pat Centner, American Family Association Journal, September 2000, Website of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools

Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club was the setting July 25 for an important announcement that is likely to have far-reaching impact on the students attending our nation’s public schools and, perhaps, the future of America itself.

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) is a proactive organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina, that is devoted to returning the study of the Bible as an elective course to junior and senior high school classrooms nationwide. Its president, Elizabeth Ridenour, says tremendous progress has been made in this effort, but there have also been threats along the way from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way who vehemently oppose even the mention of God’s name in a classroom. During those confrontations, NCBCPS has been assisted primarily by the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy (CLP).

The working relationship between the two entities has flourished, and along with it AFA’s desire to help NCBCPS achieve its goal. As a result, the Washington press conference was the forum through which Steve Crampton, chief counsel for CLP, made public the fact that AFA intends to more actively support the NCBCPS efforts and play an even more prominent role in the future by: 1) providing legal services free of charge to any school districts sued by the ACLU or others like it who attempt to intimidate or block the districts from using the Bible curriculum, and 2) networking and using its various media outlets to increase awareness of the curriculum and the relative ease with which it can be introduced into a school district’s curriculum. Continue.

The Bible, Public Schools, and Mainstream Media

By A. Urti, Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, March 28, 2007

A recent Time Magazine piece lauds the idea of teaching the Bible in America’s public schools. In the piece, Time’s religion editor, David Van Biema points out myriad reasons why the Bible is foundational to any Western education, namely due to its pervasiveness in literature, the founding of political movements, and even in the scientific realm. Without an understanding of what the Scripture basically says, there is no context to understand much of contemporary American, and for that matter, global life. Continue.

Prothero book ignites interest in public school Bible courses

The Case for Teaching The Bible

By David Van Biema, Time Magazine, April 2, 2007

Time surveys the current state of Bible study courses in the nation's public schools -- and finds them poised for significant proliferation. This cover story gives prominence to the argument by Boston University religion deparment chair Stephen Prothero in his new book, Religious Literacy. The book, says reporter Van Biema, "presents a compelling argument for Bible-literacy courses." Van Biema provides useful details about the two competing organizations offering curricula for the Bible courses. He also includes a paragraph on the concerns about the classes of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Click here for the article.

We live in the land of biblical idiots

Opinion article by Stephen Prothero, Los Angeles Times Editorial, March 14, 2007

Although the 110th Congress has brought to Capitol Hill 43 Jews, two Buddhists and a Muslim -- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who took his oath of office on Thomas Jefferson's Koran -- Washington remains a disproportionately Christian town. More than 90% of federal legislators call themselves Christians, making Congress more Christian than the United States itself. The president is an evangelical Protestant. Catholics enjoy a majority on the Supreme Court. Biblical references -- from the Jericho Road to the golden rule to the promised land -- permeate political speech. Yet U.S. citizens know almost nothing about the Bible. Although most regard it as the word of God, few read it anymore. Even evangelicals from the Bible Belt seem more focused on loving Jesus than on learning what he had to say. Continue.

Americans get an 'F' in religion

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY, March 7, 2007

In this report on Stephen Prothero's new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, Grossman notes that televangelist and Christian Zionist leader Pastor John Hagee, among others on the religious right, have attacked The Bible and its Influence, a moderate textbook backed by some Jewish groups as an alternative to the overtly Christian fundamentalist The Bible in History and Literature.

The Bible and Its Influence has been blasted by conservative Christians such as the Rev. John Hagee, pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Hagee calls it "a masterful work of deception, distortion and outright falsehoods" planting "concepts in the minds of children which are contrary to biblical teaching."

Hagee wrote to the Alabama legislature opposing adoption of the text, citing points such as discussion questions that could lead children away from a belief in God. Example: Asking students to ponder if Adam and Eve got "a fair deal as described in Genesis" would plant the seed that "since God is the author of the deal, God is unfair."

Hagee prefers the Bible itself as a textbook for Bible classes, used with a curriculum created by a group of conservative evangelicals, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, based in Greensboro, N.C. The council says its curriculum is being offered in more than 300 schools.

Sheila Weber, a spokeswoman for The Bible Literacy project, says their textbook has been revised in the second printing issued last month with the examples cited by Hagee removed. The teachers' edition was reissued in August. The first printing was approved by numerous Christian scholars and seminaries and is already in use in 82 school districts.

Click here to read the USA Today report.

See also: Hagee's March 2006 letter to the Alabama legislature, from which these quotes are drawn. Click here to see a PDF copy of the letter on the website of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools..

Bible Literacy Project Corrections to Bible Textbook are Non Sequitur

News release from Wiley Drake, 2nd Vice President of The Southern Baptist Convention, Christian Newswire, March 20, 2007

Dr. John Hagee, of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Tx., called "The Bible and Its Influence" "a masterful work of deception, distortion and outright falsehoods." Bible Literacy Project Communications Vice President Sheila Weber has claimed that "misrepresentations" about the textbook "The Bible and Its Influence" have been corrected. However, many of Hagees' strongest concerns remain unchanged.

Page 29 of the Bible Literacy Project textbook reads "other origin stories tell of many gods who are created, etc." Hagee says this "plants the concept in the mind of children that polytheism is just as acceptable as monotheism, which is contrary to the Bible." Also unchanged is a Bible quotation from an interpretation by Dr. Robert Alter, an endorser of and contributor to the textbook, saying God created the world "out of welter and waste." Hagee contends this leaves a "completely wrong" impression of the creation account. Hagee says the unchanged phrase on page 34 promotes polytheism: "By contrast, some traditions and philosophies see humans as no more or less sacred than other living creatures." Continue

See also: Hagee's March 2006 letter to the Alabama legislature, from which these quotes are drawn. Click here to see a PDF copy of the letter on the website of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools..

New Stephen Prothero book, 'Religious Literacy,' Supports Approach of New Student Textbook for Public Schools, 'The Bible and Its Influence'
Prothero recommends a course on the Bible for all high school students

News release, Bible Literacy Project, March 9, 2007 via Earned Media

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, Mar. 9 /Christian Newswire/ -- Stephen Prothero’s well publicized new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t, recommends that “public schools should include a required course on the Bible for all high school students,” and cites the Bible Literacy Project’s student textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, as a good approach.

“The Bible courses envisioned here would include but would not be limited to teaching about the Bible as literature,” writes Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. “Many advocates for religious studies in the public schools--including the people at the Virginia-based Bible Literacy Project behind a textbook called The Bible and Its Influence (2005)--have stressed the Bible-as-literature approach, in part because it is relatively uncontroversial…But neither should teachers and students approach it as literature alone, as if its words have resonated over the centuries solely in the imaginations of poets and playwrights. Students must understand the historical force of the Bible….This appears to be the approach of a bill signed into law in 2006 in Georgia requiring elective Bible courses statewide, and of the Bible Literacy Project’s new textbook. (Religious Literacy: pages 133-134)Continue.

Breakthrough public school Bible textbook receives wide acclaim from scholars, the media and national faith leaders
After first 18 months, The Bible and Its Influence, is used in 83 school districts in 30 states

Overview section of the Bible Literacy Project's website. (Home page is similarly promotional)

Used along with the Bible

Praised for its scholarship and broad support

Widespread Recognition of the NEED: Recent national media coverage shows overwhelming support among educators for Bible literacy courses in public high school. Research shows that educators unanimously agree that students’ ability to understand literature, art, history and music and culture is harmed by ignorance of this foundational document of Western civilization.

Academic study of the Bible is LEGAL: In the past, teachers have been fearful about how to teach about the Bible, even though the courts have said that academic study of the Bible is beneficial for education, and that it is legal to teach its content but not promote nor disparage belief. Only 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools offer such a course; our goal is to increase that level to 80 percent. Click here.

Christians Pleasantly Surprised by Time's Pro-Bible Article

By Doug Huntington, Christian Post, March 30, 2007

Christians have been voicing their shock and delight over a recent cover story featured in 'TIME' called 'The Case for Teaching the Bible,' because it supports the teaching of the Bible in public school.

The author of last week’s Time magazine cover story, who favors the introduction of the Bible into classrooms, gave fresh hope that the Bible could really be included among public instruction.

“At first glance, you might think the wrong magazine had landed on the rack in the grocery store check-out line next to Newsweek and People magazine,” commented Chuck Colson during his radio talk show Breakpoint this week. “The cover features a picture of a black-and-yellow CliffsNotes version of the Bible. What is this, you think—the annual Easter-season bashing of Christians? Continue.

Reports updating our April 6th report

Texas may require schools to carry elective on Bible
Legislation calls for an 'objective and nondevotional' course.

Lianne Hart, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2007

Houston -- The Lone Star State could become the first in the nation to require all public high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible.

Hearings continued in the Legislature last week on a bill that calls for school districts in Texas to offer a class on "the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments eras" if at least 15 students sign up.

The bill was written by state Rep. Warren Chisum, a West Texas Republican who teaches Sunday school at a Baptist church. He said the course would not treat the Bible as a "worship document" but would promote religious and cultural literacy by "educating our students academically and not devotionally." Continue.

Bible elective class bill stirs religious debate
Faith leaders want to tread cautiously on sacred text classes.

Eileen E. Flynn, Austin American-Statesman, April 12, 2007

A bill that would require Texas schools to offer elective classes based on the Bible has sparked a lot of questions among religious leaders, who hope to get answers today when the bill is discussed in a public hearing.

House Bill 1287, written by Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, would give students the option of studying the literature and history of the Old Testament and New Testament eras if at least 15 students in a high school want to take the class.

Chisum has said the class would explore the scriptures' influence on the arts, literature and history and would not be a vehicle for religious indoctrination. About two dozen of the state's 1,040 school districts now have similar classes, and offering the classes is optional. Continue.

What separation?
State Rep. Warren Chisum works hard to erode the line between church and state.

Editorial, The Houston Chronicle, April 13, 2007

State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, is a busy man. Too busy, it sometimes seems.

One would think he'd have enough on his plate as chair of the budget-setting House Appropriations Committee, the most powerful committee in either chamber of the Legislature. But he has ample time to sponsor and support a number of bills under the aegis of the Texas Conservative Coalition, of which he is an active member and a former leader. Continue.

Brazoria City Council backs prayer in schools

Eric Hanson, The Houston Chronicle, April 14, 2007

The Brazoria City Council unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution calling for prayer to be a part of public schools and urging other Texas cities to pass similar measures.

"I feel the need (for prayer) is greater now than ever before. It is something I want to be involved in," Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley said Friday. "My goal is to just bring God back into the lives of these kids through our school system." Continue.

Brazoria pushing school prayer

Desiree Evans, The Facts (Brazoria County, Texas), April 13, 2007

Brazoria -- The city already made national headlines this year by trying to stop people from saying an offensive word. Now, instead of trying to outlaw a word, city officials want "the word" spread through public schools.

City Council unanimously passed a resolution urging organized prayer be reinstated in public schools and is hoping other governments statewide follow Brazoria’s lead.

"With all of the problems kids face today in society, it is very important that God be brought back into our school systems," Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley said Thursday. Continue.

Marriage, divorce subject of conservatives' proposals

Kelley Shannon, Associated Press, The Dallas Morning News, April 14, 2007

Deep in the heart of Texas, some state legislators are trying to lay down the law about affairs of the heart.

Proposals that would encourage couples to undergo premarital education, extend the waiting period for a divorce and provide the option of creating a "covenant marriage" are up for consideration at the Capitol.

Social conservatives pushing the measures say they want everyone who enters marriage -- or who tries to get out of it -- to think about the seriousness the union, especially for the sake of children who could grow up impoverished because of divorce. Continue.

Chuck Norris Helps the NCBCPS Spread David Barton's Lies

By Chris Rodda, Talk to Action, April 15, 2007

In an April 9, 2007 article on WorldNetDaily entitled Bringing the Bible Back Into Public Schools, National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) board member and spokesman Chuck Norris regurgitates the following erroneous claim, almost verbatim from the NCBCPS website's "Founding Fathers" page.

A study by the American Political Science Review on the political documents of the founding era, which was from 1760-1805, discovered that 94 percent of the period's documents were based on the Bible, with 34 percent of the contents being direct citations from the Bible. The Scripture was the bedrock and blueprint of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, academic arenas and heritage until the last quarter of a century.

The study referred to by Norris was conducted by Donald S. Lutz of the University of Houston, whose findings were published in a 1984 article in The American Political Science Review. Misrepresentations of Lutz's study have been around for years, the first appearing in John Eidsmoe's 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, followed a few years later by the version most often seen today, taken from NCBCPS advisory board member David Barton's book Original Intent. Continue.

Bringing the Bible back into public schools

Chuck Norris, World Net Daily, April 9. 2007

Martial arts star Chuck Norris attacks the Texas Freedom Network and other "liberal" groups that oppose Bible courses:

"Three hundred eighty-two public school districts have voted to implement a course on it.

"Over 1,350 schools in 37 states can now offer it as a textbook.

"Approximately 190,000 students have already been taught from it as a course curriculum.

"I'm talking about the Bible in public school. It's no joke! And I want to help you get a course on it offered in your school district, too." Continue

Sen. Patrick walks out on religious tolerance
I would have thought that having a minority-religion-led prayer in the Senate would open people's minds.

Opinion article, Brenda Tso, The Daily Texan (University of Texas, Austin), April 6, 2007

The sky is falling on the Texas Legislature.

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate came into session with an Islamic prayer. Imam Yusuf Kavacki offered blessings from the Koran on the Senate floor. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, became so irate that he walked out.

Sen. Kay Shapiro, R-Plano, the state's senior Jewish Senator, had granted the prayer request from the Freedom and Justice Foundation.

In a press release, Sen. Shapiro stated that "Our country prides itself on freedoms, the most relevant today is freedom of religion. In our blessed country, everyone is free to pray according to their religion, and allowing a Muslim to express his freedom demonstrates what we all have in common in the United States." Continue.

Texas Republicans move a second religion-in-school bill

Governor supports bill specifying free religious expression

Kelley Shannon, Associated Press, The Houston Chronicle, April 10, 2007

Austin -- Gov. Rick Perry joined some fellow Capitol Republicans and social conservatives Tuesday to urge passage of legislation he says will clarify for Texas schools that they may allow religious freedom on campus.

A bill by Rep. Charlie Howard, a Sugar Land Republican, will be considered in a legislative committee this week. The measure will help schools feel comfortable in allowing religious speech permitted under the First Amendment without the worry that they will be sued, Howard said.

"The waters have become very muddy," he said. Continue.

Texas lawmaker pushes student religious liberty bill

By Jim Brown, OneNewsNow.com, March 30, 2007

A bill introduced in the Texas Legislature seeks to clear up "growing confusion" about religious expression in the state's public schools. Republican Representative Charlie Howard says he's fed up with the increasing incidence of schools censoring the religious speech of students, so he has introduced the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act. Continue.

Rep. Charlie Howard Files School Children's Religious Liberty Bill

News Release, Rep. Charlie Howard, March 13, 2007

(Austin) – In response to the growing confusion about religious expression in Texas public schools, Rep. Charlie Howard of Fort Bend Friday introduced a bill that outlines the extensive liberties students are guaranteed and the protection school officials receive when recognizing these liberties. The bill lays to rest many myths that have led to the unconstitutional suppression of individual speech in Texas schools.

The Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act (HB3678)(http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=80R&Bill=HB3678) codifies the many constitutional ways a student, or groups of students, may express their faith at school and at school-sponsored events. HB3678 also outlines what activities would land a school in constitutional hot water.

“This bill leaves no doubt that individual religious expression is permissible in schools in a wide range of contexts,” said Rep. Howard. “It is a win-win for students and school officials alike, both of whom are now uncertain how to navigate what has become muddied, constitutional waters.”

HB3678 makes clear that unconstitutional censorship of students’ individual religious expression will not be allowed in Texas public schools. The bill also offers clarity for teachers and administrators who have been confused about what religious expression is permitted in schools. Continue.

Help Protect Texas Students' Religious Liberties
Contact Your State Senator and Representative Today!

Action alert from American Family Association, found April 16, 2007

The Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act (HB 3678), has been introduced in Texas to protect children’s religious liberties in public schools. A few examples of unconstitutional censorship of school children in Texas include: Reprimands for talking about Jesus during Easter; a ban on children wishing deployed troops a “Merry Christmas;” children forbidden from using religious messages on gifts or cards including references to St. Valentine’s Day; children forbidden from bringing Christmas items to a school’s “Winter Party” despite the acknowledgment of other faiths during the season; children threatened by Superintendent that if they prayed they would be "disciplined the same as if they had cursed;" teacher trashing two Bibles belonging to students, taking the students to the principal's office and threatening to call Child Protective Services on the parents for letting their children bring Bibles to school. Continue.

Texas House passes Bible study elective bill HB 1287 with safeguards

May 8, 2007. The Texas Freedom Network announced this evening that the Texas House has just stopped an effort to strip safeguards from a controversial bill on high school Bible study courses. The House move follows efforts yesterday by the bill's sponsor Rep. Warren Chisum to remove those safeguards and make the courses mandatory. The safeguards include teacher certification and training and explicit statements that teachers may not endorse or deprecate any religious or nonreligious faith or religious perspective. According to the Texas Freedom Network, religious right organizations lobbied heavily to remove the safeguards. Over the next few days we will update our earlier report about the Bible study bill with news about these developments.