Beliefs Culture Ethics Opinion

COMMENTARY: Is the Hobby Lobby Bible elective objective?

“The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact” was the first textbook of a curriculum the Green family hoped to introduce in Mustang, Okla., public schools. Photo courtesy of Museum of the Bible

(RNS) On April 14, the school board in Mustang, Okla., voted to institute an elective Bible course. This is not news. More than a thousand U.S. public schools offer Bible as literature courses.

The Book's curriculum cover photo courtesy of Museum of the Bible.

The Book’s curriculum cover. Photo courtesy of Museum of the Bible

But the curriculum for the Mustang course was developed by Steve Green, president of the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain, which is committed, according to its website, to “honoring the Lord in all we do.”

In March, Hobby Lobby argued before the Supreme Court for a religious liberty exemption to the Affordable Care Act. Now Green is promoting the Bible curriculum the Mustang school board just adopted — a curriculum he predicts will soon be adopted in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American public schools.

In its decisions on religion in public education, the Supreme Court has distinguished sharply between preaching religion (which the First Amendment prohibits) and teaching about religion (which it allows). Courses that explore the Bible “objectively as a part of a secular program of education” are in its view constitutional.

But will the Green-funded Bible curriculum be secular and objective?

Left to right, Lauren Macafee (Steve Green's daughter), Hannah Smith (Becket Fund), Darcee Lett (Barbara and David's daughter), Mart Green, David Green, Jackie Green, Steve Green, and Diana Green address the press outside the Supreme Court on March 25, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Left to right, Lauren Macafee (Steve Green’s daughter), Hannah Smith (Becket Fund), Darcee Lett (Barbara and David’s daughter), Mart Green, David Green, Jackie Green, Steve Green, and Diana Green address the press outside the Supreme Court on March 25, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, argued in a November letter that this partnership between Hobby Lobby and the Mustang school board “casts doubt on the objective nature of the class.” In an April follow-up, he wrote that the draft textbook demonstrates “a clear Christian bias.”

“It’s not about teaching the Bible as literature,” Seidel told me. “It’s about teaching a particular religion that uses the Bible.”

Timothy Dalrymple, editor at and one of many evangelicals consulting on this project, said he signed on only after hearing that Green was determined to produce a “fact-based and non-sectarian” textbook.

Counseling patience, Dalrymple is confident that problems with the current draft will be fixed. “It’s the best Bible curriculum for public schools that I’ve seen by a long shot,” he said.

You cannot make sense of Western art or American literature without basic biblical literacy, and in a country in which Christianity so deeply informs political rhetoric, knowledge of the Bible is essential for citizenship. So I am an advocate of public school Bible courses. And there is much to praise in the 200+ pages of the April “working draft” of the textbook I reviewed. The writing is clear, catchy even. Its emphasis on the Bible’s impact on music, literature and film is laudable.

Nonetheless, I have two key objections.

First is the tendency of the authors to view virtually every Bible story through a Christian lens. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is presented here as a narrative of “The Fall” of humanity from innocence into sin. But that is a Christian interpretation. Jews, who do not typically believe in original sin and therefore do not seek salvation from it, do not read the story this way. Yet this is the sole interpretation offered.

My second objection concerns the inability of the textbook’s authors to resist the temptation to assert the Bible’s truth. This claim is asserted repeatedly, sometimes through leading questions (“How do we know that the Bible’s narratives are reliable?”), sometimes through graphics that provide check marks in boxes regarding the text’s “reliability” and “historical accuracy,” and sometimes through maps that, by pinpointing where biblical events occurred, shut down all doubt about their historicity.

In one “summary” box, this draft reads: “We can conclude that the Bible, especially when viewed alongside other historical information, is a reliable historical source.”

Stephen Prothero is a professor in Boston University's religion department and the author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation." Photo courtesy of HarperSanFrancisco

Stephen Prothero is a professor in Boston University’s religion department and the author of “The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.” Photo courtesy of HarperSanFrancisco

I do not doubt that Green’s team sincerely wants to produce a non-sectarian textbook. I am skeptical, however, that the scholars that Green has assembled for this job — a group that tilts like a listing ship toward evangelicals working at evangelical institutions — are capable of producing a textbook beholden to facts rather than faith.

In an April 2013 speech to the National Bible Association, Green described the Bible as “true” and “good.” He has every right to this belief. But it is not a self-evident proposition, and there is no place under the Constitution for a textbook that requires public school students to pledge their allegiance to it.

(Stephen Prothero is a professor in Boston University’s religion department and the author of The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.)

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Stephen Prothero


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  • Do you have to ask the question? Of course not.

    It would serve no purpose for Steve Green for it to be so. It is taught from a perspective of forwarding and reinforcing belief.

    Green is merely trying to buy school districts to push his religious beliefs in violation of the law. Everything about Green screams, “self-righteous wealthy jerk who thinks he can buy people”. What is ridiculous is how fundamentalist Christians are stupid enough to follow along with him because he pretends to speak their language.

  • I agree with Larry. I also think that you knew the answer when you wrote the title. Cannot imagine anyone who would say yes. This is a slippery slope that we are traversing.

  • We really need an elective high school course on the Bibles from a fact based standpoint.

    This would include:

  • …looks like it sent before it was complete. Continued…..

    Some information to include:

    I. History
    A. Diversity of Early Christianity (Gnostics, Paulites, Ebionites, etc.)
    B. Different scripture of different early Chistianties
    C. Choosing which books to include (never settled, not settled today)
    D. Changes to texts over time (never settled, not settled today)
    E. The many known forgeries (I & II Peter, II Thess, Ephesians, Daniel, etc.)

    II. Impact
    A. Scripture related Christian conflict & War before 1000 CE (docetists, anti-semitism, Reconquista, etc.)
    B. Scripture related conflict 1000-1500 CE (Crusades, Albigensian, etc.)
    C. Scripture related conflict 1500-today (European wars of religion, Mein Kampf, etc.)

    III. Content
    A. Scriptural approval of social ills (slavery – curse of Ham, treament of women, children, non-Christians, etc.)
    B. Scriptural science mistakes (the flood story disproven by Geology, the fact that Gen 1 describes a flat, immobile earth under a clear hard dome of the sky, the whole Exodus story disproven by archeology, etc.)
    C. Scriptural genocide (mythical conquest of Canaan, Luke 19, etc.)

    IV. Current Harm
    A. continued oppresion of women
    B. treatment of LBGT/ same-sex marriage
    C. Ongoing apocalyptacism
    D. climate-change denial

    I’m sure others could add quite a bit to this rough draft.

  • It was kinda funny the first time. Even if a little unintentional. A fact based study of the Bible being about ….nothing.

  • @Jon,

    Yes. Teach the Bible and other religions from Kindergarten through 4th grade.

    Include Michael Shermer’s explanation of why we believe in Gods. It all comes down to infantile urges to find Mommy and Daddy. We would outgrow it like we outgrow baby teeth – but there is this sick industry CASHING IN ON IT to prevent us from pulling out our baby teeth!

    Religion is a national disease. The problems it is cause across the democracy are KALEIDOSCOPIC!!

  • The problems religion is causing across our democracy are obvious.
    Just look at what SCOTUS has been up to lately.

    I keep hearing how the non-religous are becoming more powerful – but it isn’t true. Atheists need to speak up.

  • It would have to include the interpretations, and the reason and science behind them, that mainline and progressive denominations have of the Bible, and how that does and did inform their mission.

    There are many ways to read the Bible, and the literal way most Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and other Conservative Christians have been reading it for about 150 years is only one. Atheists tend to read/interpret it the same way.But the historical/metaphorical way of looking at the texts, which this course never addresses, is one that sees the Bible as a collection of books, written by many people, in many places and times, in different literary styles, about their experiences of the Holy. I take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.

  • Which means this is a handful for a college course, way over the level of a high school elective.

    That is if the intention is an honest objective view of the Bible. Nothing about the proposed course appears honest or objective. It is simply Steve Green trying to amuse himself by seeing how much money it would take to get a school district to violate the law.

  • “I do not doubt that Green’s team sincerely wants to produce a non-sectarian textbook.”

    I do.