Odessa Bible Class Lawsuit a Result of Reckless Decisions by Local Officials
School Trustees Put Their Religious and Political Agendas above the Interests of Students and Taxpayers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 16, 2007
A lawsuit filed today over Bible courses in Odessa public high schools is the direct result of reckless decisions made by local officials over the past two years, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.
“This is a case study in what happens when public officials put their own religious and political agendas ahead of the interests of students and taxpayers,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “Instead of model courses that respect both the Bible and religious freedom, school board members created a model for promoting their own religious views over everybody else’s.”
The Texas Freedom Network is a religious liberties watchdog group based in Austin and has conducted in-depth research into public school Bible courses. TFN is not a party to the lawsuit in Odessa.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit two years after the Ector County Independent School District voted to offer elective Bible courses in Odessa public high schools. In December 2005, the school board adopted a deeply flawed curriculum from the North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
A report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, published in August 2005, revealed serious problems with the National Council’s curriculum. The TFN Education Fund sent a copy of that report to each school board member and to district officials in Odessa prior to the board’s decision in December 2005 to adopt the National Council’s curriculum. In addition, local parents and educators urged the school board to choose an unbiased and more appropriate curriculum for the course.
“These school board members disregarded clear and reasonable warnings against putting taxpayers and the religious freedom of their students at risk,” Miller said. “But they were more interested in preaching than teaching.”
The TFN Education Fund report authored by Prof. Mark Chancey, a biblical scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas showed that the curriculum blatantly favors a fundamentalist Protestant Christian view of the Bible. The perspectives of mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews are ignored or presented as outside the mainstream. In addition, the report detailed numerous factual errors, extensive plagiarism and other examples of sloppy scholarship throughout the curriculum. The report is available at www.tfn.org.
The lawsuit comes as the Texas Legislature considers a bill on elective courses about the Bible in public high schools. The original version of House Bill 1287 by state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, would have required all of the state’s public high schools to offer such courses. The House-passed version, which had been substantially revised by the Public Education Committee, makes the courses optional. It also includes common-sense safeguards for religious freedom, including standards for teacher qualifications, curriculum and textbooks. The Senate has yet to take up the bill.
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.