All sane observers immediately see any number of problems with this idea. The most pressing, from a practical perspective, is the high likelihood that the use of this course in public schools will involve a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Contrary to “conservative” mythology, Supreme Court opinions do not prohibit prayer or the study of the Bible as a literary artifact in public schools.
The public school district in Mustang, Oklahoma, a western suburb of Oklahoma City, has chosen to offer Green’s course as an elective. Sean McDaniel, Superintendent of the Mustang Schools, insisted that the course is “nonsectarian,” because the course is the result of over seventy different scholars who “come from different personal faith backgrounds.”
In any court challenge, the judge is much more likely to look at the material the course presents to the students than the “personal faith backgrounds” of the authors in deciding if the course violates the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court has prohibited proselytizing or advocating the adoption of any specific religion in public schools as violating the rule against adoption of state religion in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has endorsed a pamphlet for public school use that identifies four principles to use in deciding if a given course is consistent with the law in this area. They are:
- A school must approach religion in an academic, rather than a devotional, manner.
- A school may inculcate the students’ awareness of religion, but not their acceptance of it.
- A school may offer courses for the study of religion, but not for the practice of it.
- A school may offer education about all religions, but not promotion or denigration of any religion.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin requested a copy of the course materials from Mr. Green, who has yet to respond. The FFRF has managed to look at a copy of the textbook for the course and has found a number of problems with it, all of which are related in various ways to the four principles above.
First, a hallmark of academic study of any topic is a willingness to adopt a critical attitude. Any question is valid so long as it is directly related to the topic. The Green textbook treats all events that the Bible describes as historically accurate. There are parts of the Bible that historians can confirm with independent evidence, but the Green text offers specific artifacts of biblical events as only remaining to be found, such as Noah’s ark, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Holy Grail (apparently without reference to Monty Python) when no serious scholar thinks the related events really happened or expects ever actually to find any of the objects in question.
The text also ignores the complicated issues of the history of the Bible itself, referring only to Protestant versions of the Bible, which is inherently ahistorical, since absent the Catholic Church as the primary institutional manifestation of Christianity in Europe from the fall of Rome to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, there would be no Protestants to begin with. This is one of many ways in which it becomes obvious that the decision to take an uncritical, devotional, implicitly Christian attitude toward religion rather than a critical, academic attitude leads to all of the other three problems as listed above. One is more likely to encourage the acceptance and practice of a religion, and if the religion is Christianity, the denigration of all other religions, if one uncritically accepts as true every claim in the Bible.
The textbook implicitly denigrates Judaism by referring to the “Old Testament” rather than the “Hebrew Bible,” as most non-sectarian modern scholars prefer.
Further, Green’s textbook also offers a whitewash of U.S. history in which the bible plays a role vastly disproportionate to its actual one. Green attributes the concept of freedom of the press to the Bible, thus completely ignoring the long history of suppression of ideas and expression in the name of religion, especially Christianity.
Even more fantastically, Green’s text presents the Bible as describing the origins of feminism, overlooking the long, sorry history of oppression of women that Christians of various stripes have practiced with the apparent endorsement of the Bible, or the fact that early women’s rights leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton chose to produce the Woman’s Bible in order to have a primary Christian text that did not advocate the subordination of women.
Green, of course, as President of Hobby Lobby, has also made a name for himself recently by pursuing to the U.S. Supreme Court a challenge to the mandate in the Affordable Care Act to provide contraceptive coverage in his employees’ health insurance as violating his personal religious beliefs. This fact alone makes it highly unlikely that any course with Green’s imprimatur would pass Constitutional muster.
Apart from a statement from the Oklahoma PTA objecting to the lack of public review before the adoption of the course by the Mustang school district, no one has yet proposed any formal challenge to the course.