Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green launches a new project: a public school Bible curriculum

(RNS) The Mustang, Okla., school board voted Monday (April 14) to adopt a Bible course developed by Steve Green, clearing the way for the Hobby Lobby president, whose suit against the Affordable Care Act is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, to enter another charged arena at the borderline of church and state.
The Book's curriculum cover photo courtesy of Museum of the Bible.

A Bible course developed by Steve Green. Cover photo courtesy of Museum of the Bible

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The board, whose district is practically in Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City backyard, agreed to beta-test the first year of the Museum of the Bible Curriculum, an ambitious four-year public school elective on the narrative, history and impact of the Good Book. For at least the first semester of the 2014-15 year, Mustang alone will employ the program, said Jerry Pattengale, head of the Green Scholars Initiative, which is overseeing its development. In September 2016, he hopes to place it in at least 100 high schools; by the following year, “thousands.” If successful, Green, whose family’s wealth is estimated at upward of $3 billion, would galvanize the movement to teach the Bible academically in public schools, a movement born after the Supreme Court banned school-sanctioned devotion in the 1960s but whose steady progress in the last decades has been somewhat hampered. The Green curriculum ”is like nothing we’ve seen before,” said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and editor of a booklet sent out to all schools by the U.S. Department of Education in 2000 on teaching religion in public schools. “It’s unique in its ambition and its scope and its use of the latest technologies. I think school districts far from Oklahoma will take note.” So will civil libertarians. In an award acceptance speech last April before the National Bible Association, Green explained that his goals for a high school curriculum were to show that the Bible “is true,” that it’s “good” and that its 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.” If realized, these sentiments, although shared by millions of Americans, could conflict with the court’s requirement that public school treatment of the Bible be taught in a secular, academic fashion. In the same speech, Green expressed hope that such courses would become mandatory, whereas now they are usually elective. Green’s move into public school curricula grew out of his second-best-known project (after the lawsuit): a 430,000-square-foot museum of the Bible due to open in 2017 several blocks from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that will feature objects from his family’s 44,000-piece collection of biblical artifacts. A little over a year ago, said Pattengale, the realization that a high school curriculum could “help millions of students worldwide” understand the Bible’s importance came to seem even more pressing than the museum. Having created an international network of scholars to assist the museum, Pattengale led a crash initiative on the curriculum. He describes the first year, which takes the project only to its quarter-way mark, as a multimillion-dollar effort involving more than 170 people. “It will never recuperate its expenses,” he said, but “there’s no desire to make money.” He describes the program as “robustly unique.” It divides its topic into three areas: the Bible’s narrative; the history of its composition and reception; and its impact on human civilization. The spine of the first-year program (the only text completed so far) is a 400-plus-page book, currently spiral-bound, featuring 108 chapters divided into five-day-a-week lessons. The book links to a dizzying array of state-of-the-art digital enhancements (Pattengale counts 550), including one where illustrations “come alive” as video on the screen of a smartphone; original lectures by Green Institute scholars; clips from the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey miniseries “The Bible”; and deep digital access to the Green’s biblical collection. Asked to describe a typical chapter, Pattengale (who also serves on the Religion News Service managing board) outlined a “narrative” segment on creation that includes a summary of the Bible account; a section on how subsequent scientific discoveries relate to what the Bible says; and a consideration of key reasons it was written. A sidebar called “Are People Created Equal?” explores the Book of Genesis’ influence on that idea through history, including the famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular assumptions, there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching about the Bible in public schools. The same Supreme Court ruling that outlawed school-sanctioned prayer in 1963 qualified that “Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible … when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.” The key words, of course, are “objectively” and “secular.” Haynes suggested that, constitutionally, “the bar is actually low — I think it’s hard for judges to get beyond the surface to questions of what a sound academic course looks like — but much more difficult to develop materials that actually both reflect constitutional principles and are academically solid.” Added Southern Methodist University’s Mark Chancey: “The devil is in the details” of each plan. Of his boss’s 2013 speech, Pattengale said: “The curriculum may or may not espouse those views. The last people (Green) wanted to hire were scholars who would embellish the facts to support his religious position.” A chapter with the provocative title “How Do We Know That the Bible’s Historical Narratives are Reliable?” will include diagrams charting the commonality of multidisciplinary scholarly findings with the biblical account — or the lack of such commonality, he said. In Mustang, Green could not have asked for a more sympathetic research partner. Religious observance in the Oklahoma City bedroom community is largely Christian, and the majority of Christians are, like Green, Southern Baptist. The nearest two synagogues are not in town — and are populated with Messianic Jews who believe in Jesus. In 2005, when a previous school superintendent canceled the schools’ annual Christmas pageant because of concerns over the separation of church and state,  voters rejected a proposed school bond.  The Greens are a local employer — Hobby Lobby corporate headquarters is just five miles east on Oklahoma Highway 152 — and highly regarded citizens: ”They are for real a good Christian family, and have been for years and years,” says Don Anderson, a successful real estate agent. Said Brady Henderson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma: “We don’t like their Supreme Court brief, but they do give a lot to the community. They treat their employees better than a lot of service industries.” The vote Monday night was closer than might have been expected: four yeas and one abstention. One former pastor spoke out against adopting the curriculum, citing the innate difficulty of finding common language about the Bible. Abstaining board member Jeff Landrith grumbled that the community had not had enough chance to review curriculum. Board President Chad Fulton responded that it would available shortly for examination. One party promising to take a look was the Oklahoma ACLU: “to ensure no students… have their right of religious liberty compromised.” Soon, many will have a chance to assess it. YS/MG END VAN BIEMA The post Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green launches a new project: a public school Bible curriculum appeared first on Religion News Service.

6 Responses to “Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green launches a new project: a public school Bible curriculum”

  1. Denis Eble

    “there are those that have decided it means the freedom to trample over other people’s rights in the name of claiming your own.”


  2. Michele Joseph

    Well, the specific sin being committed in Oklahoma is fracking and injecting the waste-water thousands of feet underground, thus reducing the friction between the tectonic plates.
    What this has in common with the crusading behavior of Mr. Green is in its’ short-sightedness – take & do what you want with no thought of the future.
    The geological earthquakes will not only continue but the situation will get worse. The cultural earthquake that results from Mr. Greens’ time bomb will take longer to manifest, but unchecked, will destroy our freedom to worship as we wish.
    That is true religious freedom-the freedom to worship as we wish- which stands in stark contrast to the right’s interpretation of the phrase “religious freedom”.
    Sonehow, there are those that have decided it means the freedom to trample over other people’s rights in the name of claiming your own.

  3. Christy Besozzi

    Oklahoma is the ‘ground zero’, eh?

    Remember how various Christian ‘leaders’ pop up here and there after some disaster has struck an area to ‘explain’ how the disaster was caused by people sinning (pick your sin, usually it’s something sexual in nature that they cite)… earthquakes in California are caused by all those sins… Hurricane Sandy tried to drown New York and New Jersey because of their not being prim and proper enough…

    Well…. since 2009 in Oklahoma, earthquakes have been rumbling 40 times the normal activity level. From 1972-2009 there were about 2 to 6 earthquakes per year over 2.5 magnitude.

    But in the last month there have been 157 quakes above the 2.5 magnitude level. Just in the last week ending Saturday April 12, there have been 48 quakes above 2.5 magnitude level.

    Maybe the earth under the Green’s feet is sensing some extra sinning going on – such as: self-righteousness and disregard for the sanctity of the lives of other people (i.e. religious freedom being trampled upon) — Oh, just realized, the earth is quaking because freedoms are being trampled on…!

  4. Michele Joseph

    You’re probably right that he doesn’t care.
    Maybe he wants trouble- like a Christian jihadist- a warrior for Christ or something.
    Before I decide on a course of action, I try to take the long & broad view,
    to project into the future, to try to foresee unintended consequences.
    Now that this is being implemented , it will happen again.
    Next time it might be coming from a group he doesn’t like so much.
    The role of government is to maintain order, and this move is in opposition to that end.
    To me, this is about Muslims & Jews, especially Muslims.
    After 9/11, life became very dangerous for so many innocent Muslim families.
    I considered sending a link I found immediately after Googling “Dearborn”, but I changed my mind, it’s too offensive.
    There were a few articles claiming that Dearborn is under Sharia law
    I’ll just mention that there is a tab called “Muhammed cartoons” & an article about Pakistani cannibals.
    I smell trouble coming from the actions of Mr Green.
    Many may remember how, here in Toledo, after the attack on the mosque, we all joined hands and vowed to help and protect the Muslims.
    The recent actions of Mr.Green indicate a blatant disregard for anyone but
    certain kinds of Christians.
    If, as a society, we intend to protect the interests of innocen Muslims, we need to respond as soon as possible trouble presents itself
    With something this inflammatory, we need to monitor behavior, our own & others, and respond immediately, from germination.
    History shows that many who died in the Holocaust died because they did not respond in a timely manner.
    We need to respond NOW.
    He’s treating public schools-as if they are private .
    There are plenty of excellent private schools practically everywhere that could provide the type of education he has created.
    Areas that are lacking private schools-with his bazillions, he can build them.
    No, this man intends to start trouble.
    Do we need blood in the streets ?
    Recently, these Dominionists have been pulling some new stunt nearly every month.
    How many shots will they fire before we wake up, get up, and say no ?
    I hope people think about this seriously, and take peaceful action with calm wisdom.
    It’s been made clear that money rules, and that you vote with a dollar
    Boycotts are very powerful.
    Abortion, contraception,gays- all important issues, but their importance is eclipsed by an over-riding principle-maintaining peace in a pluralistic society.
    And for people to be shoving their religion down other people’s throats does not serve the interest of peace.
    The man is a instigator.
    Further, it shows a lack of faith in God.
    We can trust God to guide us in which way we should go.
    If He wishes for someone to be a Christian they will be a Christian.
    Consider Saul / Paul.
    God doesn’t need us to be aggressive or over-bearing.
    Think about where you will spend every dollar .
    And the Golden Rule.
    And peace.
    Live & let live.
    Watch your dollars.
    They are the only vote we have left.

  5. Denis Eble

    Michele- I’m betting that Mr. Green does not particularly care about the results of the firebomb he has thrown. Fundamentalists are righteous, don’t you know? They alone have all of the answers.

    Oklahoma, eh? Wow! The state today hardly resembles the one described in that Brroadway classic of the 50’s. Over the past decades the state has tightened its ‘Bible Belt’ buckle significantly such that 4 out of 5 are Christians, half evangelicals. It’s an easy target for Mr. Green.

    On an educational level, one wonders what value such a course might bring to the students in that state. I’d like to see the list of learning outcomes from such a course. How would such a program enhance the marketable skill-set for the graduating senior? What will necessarily be cut from the curriculum to provide time for Bible Studies classes?

    Probably science. One of its senators, James Inhofe, a few days ago pointed to freezing temperatures across the country to explain climate change science is both “laughable” and rigged. Sadly, this ‘finger in the wind’ mentality does not help alleviate the worsening drought in Oklahoma. Maybe, though, there are climate answers in the Bible.

  6. Michele Joseph

    Well, Mr. Green has opened Pandora’s box and the troubles that will fly out cannot be stuffed back in again.
    He has established a dangerous precedent.
    I want a picture of his face when he hears that the Muslims have done the
    same with the Q’uran, and he realizes that it was his religious imperialism that made that possible.
    For my part, that will be fine.
    I’d be happy to have my kids be familiarized with the Q’uran, but I chuckle with the gleeful anticipation of his reaction.

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