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Back to Jan. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 240 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JANUARY 2006

Alabama's Controversial Bible Literacy Bill
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Alabama House Bill 58 is at the center of heated conflict surrounding a course and textbook titled The Bible and Its Influence.

Critics cite that current Alabama policy provides for Bible literacy course offerings, rendering HB 58 unnecessary. Other problems also include: bypassing local and state board approval for public school curriculum, the absence of a proper review for the specified textbook, and legislating use of a vendor's product.

Nationally, those who value the importance of the Bible are concerned about the questionable manner in which Biblical passages are used by The Bible and Its Influence, including undermining Biblical truth and authority.

Introduced by Alabama House Majority Leader Ken Guin and Speaker Seth Hammett, HB 58 states in part: "A Bill To Be Entitled An Act Relating to public education; authorizing local boards of education to offer in public high schools Grades 9 to 12, inclusive, a course entitled 'The Bible and Its Influence'; and to specify the course textbook."

Edited by Cullen Schippe and Chuck Stetson, The Bible and Its Influence was published by The Bible Literacy Project (BLP). The Virginia-based non-profit group spent five years and two million dollars on the project. The textbook was released in late September 2005.


Ignoring local/state authority 
Alabama State Board of Education members Stephanie Bell and Betty Peters note that HB 58 bypasses local and state school board authority.

The American Family Association (AFA) agrees. "While we enthusiastically endorse the teaching of the Bible as part of a well-rounded education, this bill goes too far by attempting to force local school districts to use only one, untested textbook," commented Stephen Crampton, Chief Counsel for the AFA Center for Law & Policy. "It usurps the authority of the State Board of Education, which is vested with exclusive authority to review and approve textbooks for use in the public schools of Alabama." (AFA, 12-9-2005)

The Alabama Code contains a legal requirement for bids for the statewide textbook contracts. HB 58 conflicts with the state codes (Section 16-36-60, Section 16-36-61, Section 16-36-62) - because it legislates a specific vendor's product.

AFA Counsel Stephen Crampton commented, "This bill, if passed into law, would invite a legal challenge based on its plain violation of existing statutes." (AFA, 12-9-2005)


State policy already exists 
Bell and Peters explain that HB 58 is not needed for Bible literacy to be offered in Alabama high schools because existing state policy provides for this. Currently, four school districts in Alabama use The Bible in History and Literature from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS).

The NCBCPS course has been used nationally for over ten years. At present, 320 school districts (1,150 high schools) in 37 states use the NCBCPS curriculum.

Concern also exists whether HB 58 could force schools to change the existing Bible literacy curriculum.


Bypassing the review process 
Existing Alabama state law requires that all school textbooks — including the accompanying teachers manual — go through an adoption process at the State or local Board of Education level.

"The textbook specified by HB 58 has not been through the review process. This is highly unusual and unprecedented," explains Betty Peters.

The absence of a teacher manual is also a concern to Peters who cites the need to review teacher versions that contain "vital information not available in the student text which should be considered in choosing the overall curriculum."


Texas says 'NO' 
On several occasions the Texas State Board of Education was approached by BLP to adopt a resolution specifically promoting The Bible and Its Influence. The Texas SBOE rejected the idea.

As in Alabama, Texas detractors preferred to support local decision making instead of mandating one book from the state level.

Contributing to the Texas SBOE refusal to support the program was BLP's failure to provide complete course materials for review during the two years of soliciting for endorsement. BLP's submission of draft copies for three chapters was deemed insufficient for the SBOE to make an informed decision about the course.

In a 4-2 decision on Dec. 20, the Ector County Independent School District school board (Odessa, Texas) rejected the Bible Literacy Project — choosing instead to adopt the course from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. (Odessa American, 12-21-2005)


What will students be taught? 
Critics of The Bible and Its Influence discovered many examples in the book that place Christian doctrines in blatantly negative light. Instead of maintaining a neutral position, lessons were found to contain questions and comments to encourage students to question their faith, God's character, and Biblical truth.

Christian scholar Berit Kjos identified numerous problems with the BLP book. She observes: "Much of the Bible is reduced to notions (a much-repeated word in The Bible and Its Influence) subject to subjective preferences, which can be manipulated by trained facilitators."

Kjos also asserts that the BLP text "Prompts students to question God's sovereignty, wisdom and justice."

An example from page 38 of The Bible and Its Influence: "Do you think Adam and Eve received a fair deal as described in Genesis? . . . Most Jewish readings of this chapter reject the idea of a permanent, inherited spiritual disability stemming from the actions of Adam and Eve. . . . Eve did not know good from evil, how could God blame them for disobeying?" (See excerpts from the BLP text)

Scholar and historian Dennis Cuddy, Ph.D, cites statements from The Bible and Its Influence that "raise some serious questions" about BLP's intentions "to encourage and facilitate the academic study of the Bible in public schools."

Cuddy points out: "For example, it states that most Christians and Jews don't read Genesis as a literal account of God's creation of the world, and asks students to 'look up some examples of other ancient literature and mythology of the origins of the world.' Because of the word, 'other,' one could get the impression that Genesis is mythology."

Cuddy also notes: "The curriculum at its core advocated the development of 'a common vision for the common good.' These are terms commonly used by communitarians, who believe individual needs and rights should be de-emphasized or balanced against the interests of the community or society as a whole. . . ." (Christian Wire Service, 11-11-2005)

To inculcate students with the communitarian concept of "common good" brings up an important concern: Who is defining what the common good is?

With an extensive list of problems surrounding Alabama's HB 58 — including violation of state policies and the promotion of an untested product that has attracted public criticism — critics wonder if there are any public benefits to this bill.


Further Reading: 
Problems With the Bible Literacy Project  
Christian Groups Support Bible Literacy Resolution And Reject HB 58  
Bible textbook debate continues  2/16/06 


BLP textbook: Undermining Biblical Truth and Revelation

Berit Kjos, author of numerous books and articles, has critiqued The Biblical Literacy Project's textbook The Bible and Its Influence. In her article "Training Students to Rethink God's Word," Kjos explains:

Presenting the Bible as myth and stories rather than as truth and revelation, it [The Bible and Its Influence] outlines the Bible but undermines its authority. It quotes Scriptures, but adds mind-changing illustrations. Inviting human interpretations and speculations, it instills new meanings in 'open' minds. For example, it —

  1. Prompts students to doubt God's sovereignty, wisdom and justice: ". if God allows evil things to happen, can God honestly be described as good? This puzzle remains essentially unsolved." [Page 156]

  2. Suggests a more universal view of the Bible: "Muslims honor Abraham as the first monotheist, worshipper of the one true God they call Allah. . . . Draft a resolution in covenant language that you think would resolve the conflict." [Page 53]

  3. Undermines the heart of Christianity: "Jesus was also seen as an example of self sacrifice that can be imitated." . . . "On your own, try to find examples of such Christ figures in literature, film or even music." [Page 276]

  4. Ridicules Biblical warnings and prophecy: "You've probably seen cartoon or movie depictions of the prophet of doom, a shaggy bearded individual in ragged robes, ranting from a soapbox or wearing a sandwich board sign that reads, 'The end is near.'" . . . "Try your hand at doing some apocalyptic writing." [Page 117]

  5. Redefines Biblical terms: "Do absolute good and evil exist?" [Page 163]

  6. Blends pagan images with Biblical references: "Look up some examples of other ancient literature and mythology of the origins of the world (such as Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh, or Praise of the Pickax). Compare what you read there with the first two chapters of Genesis. Share your comparisons." [Page 35]

Read the full article "Training Students to Rethink God's Word" at: http://crossroad.to/articles2/05/bible-literacy.htm

Also see "A More Adaptable Bible? — A Critique of The Bible and Its Influence" by Berit Kjos. http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/05/bible-textbook.htm


 
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