National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools

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The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) is a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of its 300-page Bible curriculum, The Bible in History and Literature, in schools throughout the United States. It has been criticized as being inaccurate, and presenting biased promotion of a particular religious interpretation of the Bible as well as an unbalanced view of American history which promotes specific religious beliefs. The use of the curriculum has been challenged in lawsuits in two school districts, which have withdrawn the course as contravening the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.[1]

Overview[edit]

NCBCPS was founded on April 8, 1993, by Elizabeth Ridenhour, a Greensboro, NC, paralegal. The organization's annual 990 tax forms, available on Guidestar.org, list Ms. Ridenhour as an ordained minister. According to the organization's Web site, "312 U.S. school districts in 37 states have educated 175,000 of their students using the Bible curriculum as a public high school elective." However, as the NCBCPS does not release to the public either the content of the curriculum nor the list of schools that use it, these claims cannot be verified.

A 2006 report, "Reading, Writing and Religion: Teaching the Bible in Texas Public Schools," by Bible scholar Dr. Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University found that in Texas, "the number of Texas school districts using the NCBCPS curriculum, 11, is less than a fourth of the 52 claimed by the NCBCPS itself. Adding the very few school districts known to have used the course in the past... does not significantly change the total number. The NCBCPS markets its course by strongly emphasizing the large number of school districts that supposedly teach it; as of late July 2006, its Web site claimed that its curriculum is currently offered in 362 districts nationwide. Such oft-repeated claims now appear to be quite inaccurate. If the situation in Texas is representative, the curriculum is probably actually taught in only a few dozen districts."

Curriculum legality[edit]

The NCBCPS web site states that the organization's curriculum "has never been legally challenged",[2] and features an opinion from four lawyers claiming the course to be constitutional. Whilst the NCBCPS itself has not been sued, two school boards have been for adopting the NCBCPS materials in their district:

Moreno v. Ector County School Board[edit]

A federal lawsuit on behalf of eight parents in Odessa, Texas, was filed on May 16, 2007 against the Ector County school board. The suit was brought by the ACLU of Texas, the People For the American Way Foundation and the law firm of Jenner & Block. The suit alleged that the course promotes certain religious beliefs to the exclusion of others.[3] The Ector County School Board was represented by Liberty Legal Foundation. In a May 17, 2007 article in the Odessa American, ECISD trustee L.V. "Butch" Foreman III said he did not understand how the parents could sue the school board since they do not have children taking the course. "If they don't have children in the class, they can kiss my butt," Foreman said.[4]

On March 5, 2008, the lawsuit was settled with an agreement by the Ector County School Board to cease teaching NCBCPS materials in its public schools after that current school year. The course offered was taught as an elective in two high schools and was described as unconstitutionally promoting a particular interpretation of the Bible that is not shared by Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and most Protestants. Bible scholars had seriously criticized the course as lacking accuracy, ignoring scholarly research, promoting a particular religious interpretation of the Bible, and presenting an unbalanced view of American history which promoted specific religious beliefs.

According to the settlement,[5] any Bible course Ector County schools offer in the future cannot be based on the NCBCPS curriculum, and must follow strict legal standards for objectivity and balance. One of the plaintiffs, an ordained elder and deacon at a local Presbyterian Church, said that it was inappropriate for one set of religious beliefs to be promoted over others, and that "It seems as though a church had invaded the public school system – and it wasn’t my church". The ACLU’s Director of Litigation said in a press release that “We trust that any future curriculum will be appropriate for students of all faiths – including nonbelievers – and that it will respect the religious liberty of all Odessans.” [1]

Gibson v. Lee County School Board[edit]

The Lee County School Board (Florida) was sued while using the NCBCPS curriculum, for "unconstitutionally advancing religion in public school classrooms." According to the website of People for the American Way Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs in the suit (Gibson v. Lee County School Board), "In January 1998, the court issued a preliminary injunction that prohibited the teaching of the 'New Testament' curriculum and allowed the 'Old Testament' curriculum to be taught only under strict monitoring. The court also ordered the two sides to begin settlement negotiations.

"After the court's ruling, the Board agreed to settle the case by withdrawing the 'Old Testament' and 'New Testament' curricula it had adopted and replacing them with a new, objective and non-sectarian course based on a textbook called "An Introduction to the Bible."

Winter 2007 Baylor Law Review Article[edit]

In the Winter 2007 issue of the Baylor Law Review, Amanda Colleen Brown reviewed the NCBCPS' The Bible in History and Literature and the Bible Literacy Project's The Bible and Its Influence (59 Baylor L. Rev. 193). The author subjects both curricula to three legal tests used by the Supreme Court to determine the legality of Bible courses, and concludes that the NCBCPS curriculum is "unfit for use in public school classrooms," while the Bible Literacy Project's curriculum "comports with constitutional standards, thus making it a viable alternative to the NCBCPS curriculum." Brown argues that a key problem with the NCBCPS curriculum is that it consists of only a teacher's guide, with no student textbook. Brown writes:

Opinion of the Attorney General of Georgia[edit]

In 1999, the Attorney General of Georgia, Thurbert Baker, issued an opinion stating that the state's proposed adoption of the NCBCPS courses could not be assured that they would survive a legal challenge.[6]

Curriculum quality[edit]

On August 1, 2005, Dr. Mark Chancey, professor of Biblical studies at Southern Methodist University, released a report through the Texas Freedom Network detailing his concerns about the scholarly quality of the curriculum. Chancey stated that the curriculum was improperly sectarian, and contained "shoddy research, factual errors and plagiarism." In particular, Chancey wrote that the curriculum "uses a discredited urban legend that NASA has evidence that two days are missing in time, thus 'confirming' a biblical passage about the sun standing still [pages 116–17];" and that more than one-third of the curriculum's 300 pages are reproduced word-for-word from uncredited sources such as Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia. Hundreds of Biblical scholars at universities around the United States have signed on as endorsers of Chancey's findings.[7]

The NCBCPS responded with an August 4 press release asking the public to "consider the source." The release described the Texas Freedom Network as "a small group of far left, anti-religion extremists ... desperate to ban one book – the Bible – from public schools.[8]

In a subsequent article,[8] Dr. Chancey wrote:

Robert Marus of the Associated Baptist Press Washington Bureau wrote that the revision of the curriculum "incorporat[ed] many of the changes recommended by an organization [the NCBCPS] characterized as 'anti-religion extremists.'" [9]

Perspectives of others on the curriculum[edit]

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, in an editorial published July 7, 2007, stated that "The folks at the National Council are right on one count: The Bible should be taught in public schools. But they shouldn't be the ones to do it." The editorial criticised the NCBCPS for not releasing the names of the authors of the curriculum and for "sloppy editing, factual errors and outright copying, word for word, from sources." The Editorial Board noted that "The National Council is not the only option school districts have. A competing curriculum (The Bible and Its Influence) offered by the Bible Literacy Project, a non-profit group, has been vetted, accepted and praised by a wide range of scholars, critics and education officials."

TIME Magazine, in the cover story of its April 2, 2007 issue, wrote that the curriculum is not "legally palatable ... 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." By contrast, TIME stated that "[Public school Bible electives] should have a strong accompanying textbook on the model of (the Bible Literacy Project's) The Bible and Its Influence."[10]

By contrast, the textbook is promoted by the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, according to a March 29, 2007 NCBCPS press release, and by the Rev. John Hagee.

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