Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green launches a new project: a public school Bible curriculum

By David Van Biema

Religion News Service

Published: Tuesday, April 15 2014 3:40 p.m. MDT

Asked to describe a typical chapter, Pattengale (who also serves on the Religion News Service managing board) outlined a “narrative” segment on creation that includes a summary of the Bible account; a section on how subsequent scientific discoveries relate to what the Bible says; and a consideration of key reasons it was written. A sidebar called “Are People Created Equal?” explores the Book of Genesis’ influence on that idea through history, including the famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence.

Contrary to popular assumptions, there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching about the Bible in public schools. The same Supreme Court ruling that outlawed school-sanctioned prayer in 1963 qualified that “Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible … when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

The key words, of course, are “objectively” and “secular.” Haynes suggested that “the bar is actually low — I think it’s hard for judges to get beyond the surface to questions of what a sound academic course looks like — but much more difficult to develop materials that actually both reflect constitutional principles and are academically solid.”

Added Southern Methodist University’s Mark Chancey: “The devil is in the details” of each plan.

Of his boss’s 2013 speech, Pattengale said: “The curriculum may or may not espouse those views. The last people (Green) wanted to hire were scholars who would embellish the facts to support his religious position.” A chapter with the provocative title “How Do We Know That the Bible’s Historical Narratives are Reliable?” will include diagrams charting the commonality of multidisciplinary scholarly findings with the biblical account — or the lack of such commonality, he said.

In Mustang, Green could not have asked for a more sympathetic research partner. Religious observance in the Oklahoma City bedroom community is largely Christian, and the majority of Christians are, like Green, Southern Baptist. The nearest two synagogues are not in town — and are populated with Messianic Jews who believe in Jesus. In 2005, when a previous school superintendent canceled the schools’ annual Christmas pageant because of concerns over the separation of church and state, voters rejected a proposed school bond.

The Greens are a local employer — Hobby Lobby corporate headquarters is just five miles east on Oklahoma Highway 152 — and highly regarded citizens: ”They are for real a good Christian family, and have been for years and years,” says Don Anderson, a successful real estate agent.

Said Brady Henderson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma: “We don’t like their Supreme Court brief, but they do give a lot to the community. They treat their employees better than a lot of service industries.”

The vote Monday night was closer than might have been expected: four yeas and one abstention. One former pastor spoke out against adopting the curriculum, citing the innate difficulty of finding common language about the Bible. Abstaining board member Jeff Landrith grumbled that the community had not had enough chance to review curriculum. Board President Chad Fulton responded that it would available shortly for examination. One party promising to take a look was the Oklahoma ACLU: “to ensure no students… have their right of religious liberty compromised.”

Soon, many will have a chance to assess it.

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