Odessa Lawsuit Agreement Confirms TFN Warnings about Deeply Flawed Bible Course
Schools Using Flawed Curriculum Put Taxpayers at Risk
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 5, 2008
Today’s agreement to remove a widely marketed Bible curriculum from Odessa public schools confirms that the curriculum is deeply flawed and threatens the religious freedom of students, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.
“The agreement reached in Odessa today demonstrates that the National Council’s curriculum is inappropriate for use in any school, public or private,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “Its error-riddled pages and sloppy scholarship cheapen the study of the Bible. More fundamentally, however, the district clearly had no business promoting the narrow religious views of some over all others in its public school classrooms.”
The Texas Freedom Network is a religious liberties watchdog group based in Austin.
Miller was responding to the announcement that the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, Texas, has agreed to stop using materials from the North Carolina-based National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. The district must now appoint a committee to create a new curriculum for its classes about the Bible’s influence in history and literature. The decision ends a lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way on behalf of families in the district.
An in-depth review of the National Council’s curriculum in 2005 by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund found that its pages are plagued by numerous factual errors, poor scholarship, plagiarism and a blatant religious bias. Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, authored the study, which is available at www.tfn.org/religiousfreedom/biblecurriculum/.
Last year TFN successfully lobbied to include safeguards for religious freedom in legislation (House Bill 1287) on new elective Bible courses in public schools. That law did not cover districts currently offering Bible courses. The agreement in Odessa, however, includes many of the law’s safeguards, including requirements that the courses be neutral and accommodate diverse religious views.
Miller encouraged the Ector County school district to adopt other safeguards in the law as well, such as ensuring that teachers have the proper training, academic background and certification to teach the course. Those safeguards will protect the religious freedom of all families and help prevent future expensive lawsuits, she said.
The agreement in Odessa follows a previous federal court case in Florida (Gibson v. Lee County School Board, 1998) that found the National Council’s curriculum was inappropriate for use in public schools. Even so, a 2006 study by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund found nearly a dozen Texas school districts use materials from the National Council’s curriculum. These two lawsuits should serve as a warning to any school board that uses or considers using the National Council’s curriculum, Miller said.
“This curriculum is a case study in how groups like the National Council have cynically used our public schools to promote their own narrow religious views at the expense of taxpayers and the rights of our families,” Miller said. “No one should now be fooled. If you use the National Council’s curriculum, you are putting your taxpayers at risk and insulting all people of faith who believe classes about the Bible should be serious and respectful.”
The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who advance a mainstream agenda supporting public education, religious freedom and individual liberties.