August 2, 2005

Group assails Bible study course taught at schools

By Mark Babineck

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The publisher of a Bible study course
offered in many U.S. public schools on Tuesday rejected a Texan
religious watchdog's findings that the course promoted a
fundamentalist Christian view and was filled with errors.

Mike Johnson, attorney for the National Council on Bible
Curriculum in Public Schools, which publishes the course, said
the criticism was fueled by "radical left-wing academics."

He said the council had placed elective coursework in more
than 300 school districts in 37 states for a decade without
incurring a single lawsuit.

A study for the Texas Freedom Network published on Monday
said the curriculum endorsed the Bible as the word of God,
tried to persuade teachers and students to adopt a conservative
Protestant viewpoint and implied the Bible outweighed the
Constitution as the United States' "founding document."

Study author Mark Chancey a biblical studies professor at
Southern Methodist University, also said the publisher's
founder, Elizabeth Ridenour, was a member of the Council on
National Policy, which he called a consortium of "leaders from
the religious right."

Chancey's report said there were factual and interpretive
errors, such as one section that said Jesus Christ was pierced
by a sword while on the cross. The Bible says it was a spear.

It said several passages of the coursework crossed the line
between teaching about the Bible and proselytizing, noting a
passage that defined Scripture as "Old Testament and New
Testament which makes up God's written word."

Johnson said the course "doesn't violate the (U.S.)
Constitution because it does exactly what the Supreme Court
said must be done if you're going to study the Bible in
school." He added, "It has to be presented objectively as part
of a secular program of education."


"This is not an effort to indoctrinate students," Johnson
said. "The National Council advises teachers of this course
that they can never take a position on the truth of what's
presented in the Scriptures. Doing that wouldn't be objective
by definition."

Johnson also questioned the motives of the study's sponsor.

"This is a small band of radical left-wing academics who
have gotten together and expressed an opinion," he said. "It
flies in the face of literally hundreds of school board

It is the latest spat regarding religion in U.S. public
schools, which have been a primary battleground in the debate
over constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

The Supreme Court has banned sectarian prayer in schools in
most cases. A 2000 ruling in a Texas case reinforced the ban,
when justices voted 6-3 to bar organized prayer before football

The Texas Freedom Network has complained to state and
federal education officials and has notified all of the state's
school districts about its concerns.

The organization's president, Kathy Miller, rejected
Johnson's suggestion that the group was leftist. "We advocate
mainstream values of religious freedom, civil liberties and
public education," she said.

"We went to Southern Methodist University, which is very
much a mainline institution of higher learning, and asked a
biblical scholar to study (the course)."