Anatomy of a Bible Course Curriculum
Paterson, Frances R. A., Journal of Law and Education
A widely used Bible course curriculum suffers from a number of constitutional infirmities and is unlikely to be found constitutional if used as written in public schools. The curriculum, which is produced and distributed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), fails to present the Bible in the objective manner required for public school courses that teach about religion. The curriculum favors Protestantism over Catholicism and a literal interpretation over nonliteralist approaches to the Bible. As written, the curriculum would require teachers and students to make a number of faith statements. This article examines case law on the subject of Bible instruction in the public schools, offers a detailed analysis and critique of the NCBCPS curriculum, and suggestions for public schools contemplating adding a course in the Bible to their curricula. The critique focuses on questions related to the authorship of the course and recommended supplementary materials, the course content, and the language employed in the course materials.
Like prayer, the teaching of evolution, and displays of the Ten Commandments, the inclusion of Bible courses in public school curricula has long been a contentious issue. Social conservatives responded to a series of highly publicized school shootings with calls to restore religion, including Bible study courses, to public school classrooms. According the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), well over 100 school districts in approximately 30 states use the organization's curriculum. Those districts whose Bible study courses are based on NCBCPS materials are at substantial risk of litigation. A close examination of these materials reveals a number of constitutional infirmities. Through the inclusion and omission of various elements related to the study of the Bible and the ancient Near East, the NCBCPS curriculum presents the Bible as a factual historical document. Moreover, the materials favor Protestantism over Roman Catholicism. The primary effect of this curriculum is the promotion of conservative, evangelical Protestantism.
This article analyzes the NCBCPS curriculum to give school administrators and their attorneys information about areas that are particularly problematic when they teach or contemplate teaching such courses, including questions related to (1) authorship or sponsorship of the both the course itself and recommended supplementary materials, (2) the course content, and (3) the language employed in both written materials and oral presentation to students. In addition, this analysis will provide school board attorneys with information that will enable them to better advise their clients regarding the propriety of initiating or continuing public school Bible courses based on the NCBCPS curriculum.
In the wake of highly publicized school shootings in Paducah, Kentucky (1997), Jonesboro, Arkansas (1998), Springfield, Oregon (1998), and Columbine, Colorado (1999), social and religious conservatives have called for greater inclusion of religion in public schools. These calls have been translated into a variety of political initiatives, including bills allowing and/or requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments and permitting school prayer. Some activists have also urged that schools institute courses devoted to study of the Bible. A People for the American Way report indicated that Bible courses in the fourteen Florida districts that offered them suffered some constitutional infirmities.' In response to this report, the Florida Department of Education replaced its two Bible history courses, Bible History: Old Testament and Bible History: New Testament, with courses stressing a literary perspective and transferred them to the department's humanities. as opposed to its social studies, course list.2
No textbook for high school Bible courses is available, yet schools can teach religion courses successfully, and indeed, correctly developed and implemented courses in the Bible itself could be taught. …