I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

A few stories from the interwebs this week that might be of interest to SAGLRROILYBYGTH:

Can a public university have a Christian chapel? East Central University in Oklahoma goes back and forth.

Culture-war category bashers: Pro-life feminists.Bart reading bible

Historian Chris Gehrz: Don’t forget about America’s tradition of Christian communism.

Celebration or segregation? A skeptical look at separate graduation ceremonies.

What do high-school students want? The Fordham Institute’s study of student types.

Ole Miss takes the plunge: Changing the name of Vardaman Hall & putting up slave-labor historical notices.

When Queen Betsy asked for suggestions, people listened. Politico tallies the comments so far.

Hobby Lobby Bible Museum hits a snag: Forced to return artifacts to Iraq.

Who was the first American philosopher to tackle creationism? Glenn Branch finds a new historical clue.

A week late, but still worth reading: Cara Burnidge compiles great takes on “America.”

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Hobby Lobby-ing for Religion in Public Schools

Has God been kicked out of America’s public schools?  The most common answer among religious conservatives is yes.  But a better answer might be that God has been kicked out as a host, but earnestly welcomed in as a guest.

A new Bible curriculum for public schools hopes to reverse that trend.  As we’ve reported, Steve Green, conservative evangelical leader of the Hobby Lobby store chain, has funded a new Bible curriculum for public schools.  A recent study from the Texas Freedom Network insists that Green’s curriculum crosses the line.

Hobby Lobby's Promotional Image for Its New Bible Curriculum

Hobby Lobby’s Promotional Image for Its New Bible Curriculum

The study of the Hobby Lobby Bible curriculum was undertaken by Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University.  Chancey is a religious-studies professor with considerable expertise in the question of religion in public schools.

As Chancey reviews, it is entirely permissible for public school students to read and study the Bible.  The US Supreme Court has encouraged such study.  The problem comes when public schools attempt to teach a certain interpretation of the Bible.  In short, public schools can and should teach students about religion.  But they err when they teach students religion.

Chancey asks if the Hobby-Lobby-funded curriculum, The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact, keeps on the constitutional side of this divide.  For several reasons, Chancey concludes that it does not.

First, though Chancey notes this is not conclusive, Steve Green himself has publicly stated his intention to spread his religion.  As Chancey notes, Green makes no secret of his evangelical ambition.

Simply because Green wants to spread his faith, of course, does not mean that this Bible curriculum tries to do so.  But Chancey argues that the Bible curriculum repeatedly insists or implies that a certain evangelical-friendly interpretation of the Bible is correct.  For one thing, the Bible curriculum suggests that the Bible is historically accurate.  The authors tell readers

that the Bible, especially when viewed alongside other historical information, is a reliable historical source.

Also, Chancey argues that the curriculum privileges a Protestant vision of the Bible.  And the curriculum suggests that the real story of the Bible is salvation, a narrative that points unerringly toward the salvation offered by Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

As Chancey concludes,

The combination of a religious purpose, pervading sectarian bias, and frequent factual errors demonstrates that this curriculum has a long way to go before being appropriate for a public school classroom.

What’s next?  Since a public school district in Mustang, Oklahoma has already adopted this Bible curriculum, it appears we are headed for another lawsuit.  If Chancey’s review of this curriculum is accurate, my guess is that this material will be ruled unconstitutional for public schools.

 

The OTHER Hobby Lobby Case

You’ve been following Hobby Lobby’s case for religious freedom before the US Supreme Court.  But did you know Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green has also prepared an ambitious Bible curriculum for use in America’s public schools?

According to Religion News Service, the school board of Mustang, Oklahoma has voted to use the Bible curriculum in its public schools.  Of course, despite some rumblings to the contrary, there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching the Bible in public schools.  The US Supreme Court’s ruling in 1963’s Schempp decision specified that the Bible can and should be taught in public schools, as long as it is not taught devotionally.  That is, children can learn about the Bible, about religion, but not be drilled in any particular religious belief.

But it often seems as if the folks who want to see more Bible in public schools have a decidedly devotional bias to their activism.  As Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University found in his study of Texas Bible classes, a significant proportion of them end up teaching religion, not just teaching about religion.

In this case, no one questions Steve Green’s ardent religiosity.  As the Religion News Service article points out, Green has admitted in public statements that he hopes the Bible curriculum will show that the Bible is “good,” that it’s “true,” and that the Bible’s impact,

whether (upon) our government, education, science, art, literature, family … when we apply it to our lives in all aspects of our life, that it has been good.

It seems evident that Green hopes this Bible curriculum will lead students toward faith, at least incidentally.  For that reason, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has promised to “scrutinize” the Bible curriculum.

More evidence, it seems, of the uselessness of talking about “America’s public schools” in general.  Schools in some communities, such as Mustang, Oklahoma, may welcome evangelical Protestant curricula into their class schedules.  In other places, Green’s Bible curriculum will not be an issue.  Local school boards make decisions that fit with the cultural politics of their local communities.

 

Cruz at Liberty: Freedom under Attack

Senator Ted Cruz told the commencement crowd at Liberty University that they were in danger. Unless they remained willing to sacrifice for their faith, unless the Liberty community remained willing to get active in politics, the religious liberties of the United States could be crushed under the heel of a metastasizing federal government.  Unlike some typical graduation speakers, he hoped the career path of his audience would include some time in prison.

In some ways, Cruz’s commencement address sounded very similar to such addresses at colleges all across the nation and all across the political and religious spectrum. In spite of the fact that Senator Cruz has earned a reputation of one of the staunchest and most outspoken religious conservatives in national office, his speech often seemed mere boilerplate graduation fare: he told the crowd they were all inspirational; he told a few mildly humorous anecdotes; he allowed himself to notice how very famous he was; and he exhorted the crowd to get on out there and change the world.

But in the context of Liberty University, founded in 1970 by fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell, Cruz also included more ideologically charged material. He reviewed the conservative vision of the nature of the United States. Throughout United States history, Cruz insisted, we see nothing more starkly evident than the fact that “Faith and freedom are intertwined.”

The United States had weathered storms, Cruz said, but he warned ominously, “religious liberty . . . has never been more imperiled than it is right now.”

Cases such as the Hobby Lobby suit or that of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Cruz told the Liberty audience, demonstrate the dangers to religious freedom. These cases are not about contraception, Cruz warned. If religious people can be forced to go against their beliefs to satisfy the demands of big government, Cruz warned, then the generations of sacrifice by Godly Americans will have been for naught.

The folks at Liberty had a chance to change things, Cruz concluded. If they were brave enough to remember that they were “called to action as believers,” Liberty grads could “change the world.” But they had to be willing to suffer for it, to sacrifice for it. Like The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cruz told his Liberty audience, Christians need to be willing to go to jail to promote their beliefs.

“How many of us,” Cruz asked, “have been to prison for Christ?”