MUSTANG — A high school curriculum supported by Hobby Lobby chain President Steve Green, billed as a way to teach archaeology, history and the arts through Bible stories, also tells students God is always there in times of trouble and that sinners must “suffer the consequences” of disobeying.
The Mustang School Board recently voted to approve the academic curriculum for an elective course called “The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact,” said Mustang School Superintendent Sean McDaniel. He said about 170 students have already pre-enrolled in the class.
Although the school official said the curriculum has been reviewed by the district’s attorneys to ensure that it does not proselytize or infringe on the separation of church and state, some organizations have expressed concerns that it does just that.
The Associated Press obtained a draft copy of the curriculum from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which got it from the school district.
From the outset, the book describes God as eternal, “faithful and good,” “full of love” and “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” The course also says people should rest on the Sabbath because God did so after six days of creation. Green’s stores, following the same principle, are closed on Sunday.
Among the topics covered by the curriculum are the role of religion in early America, discussing the New World as a haven for those seeking to escape persecution. It also talks about the role of religion in art, citing the role of patrons such as the Catholic Church and wealthy families during the Renaissance.
The ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation say using the curriculum raises constitutional issues and want the school district to reconsider.
However, McDaniel and the Rev. Michael Staton, president of the Mustang Ministerial Alliance, said they expect some people will be concerned about the curriculum, but it does not violate constitutional guidelines.
“Anytime you introduce the word ‘Bible’ into a public school, there are going to be eyebrows that raise and we anticipate that,” McDaniel said.
“Our obligation as a district is to make sure that we don’t put our board or our teacher or our administrators in a position where they’re doing something that is outside the perimeters of the law. We’ve been in touch with our attorneys and we’ve made sure that every step we’ve taken will lead to a place where we all feel like we’re abiding by the law, we’re being fair, we’re being balanced with the approach and the delivery of the curriculum and that we’re not delivering a religious perspective to our kids. Not only is that not the intent, we will be watching this very closely to make sure that does not happen.”
Staton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Mustang, shared similar sentiments.
He said it’s important to emphasize that the Bible course, as an elective, is not required. Staton added that he is aware that the optional nature of the course still may not appease some people.
“I think certainly there will be some pushback probably from some within the community and certainly, from those outside the community. My guess would be that the primary opposition to it would be, ‘We don’t want anything with the Bible or Christianity in a public school,’” Staton said.
“As a pastor and a Christian, I’m not upset or offended by somebody who has a different faith or no faith and I would not want a public school to in any way force something on somebody, but as far as if someone chooses to learn more about something that has been a huge part of our nation and our world’s history, I think it’s a very legitimate course to offer.”
Superintendent requested curriculum
McDaniel said he heard that the Green family’s Green Scholar Initiative, an arm of the family’s Museum of the Bible, hoped to create a Bible curriculum so he contacted them and asked if such a curriculum could be crafted for the Mustang district.
“The Bible itself has been the bestselling book for forever. It’s had an impact on our society as a very meaningful, archaeological, geographical, historical book,” he said.
McDaniel said Green presented the concept to the Mustang School Board and he discussed the curriculum at the recent meeting when school board members considered and voted on the proposal.
Jennifer Farmer with the DeMoss Group, a public relations firm hired by the Green family, said the craft store chain’s CEO declined to comment on the Bible curriculum.
Farmer said Green did not write the Bible curriculum himself, but as president of the board of the Museum of the Bible “he’s certainly been involved in making sure this endeavor is accessible.”
She said individuals involved with the Green Scholar Initiative, a team of more than 70 writers and academic scholars, crafted the curriculum to be introduced to Mustang High students in the fall. Farmer said the team, led by Jerry Pattengale, Ph.D., the Green Scholars Initiative executive director, will be developing another three years worth of curriculum.
Information released by DeMoss about the Mustang course said it underwent 10 rounds of writing, scrutiny and editing and more editing is to come. The curriculum was reviewed for content, cultural representation, age appropriateness, grammar and scholarly objectivity, according to a news release.
Meanwhile, Superintendent McDaniel said the curriculum was reviewed by the district’s curriculum committee and text book committee before being approved by the school board. He said the 2014-15 school year will be a pilot year for the Bible course and the district plans to garner district feedback through focus groups and surveys with students, families and teachers.
“Right now, it’s a one-year proposal and we want to examine it and see if it truly is what we would like for it to be to meet the needs of our kids, like any other electives,” McDaniel said.
Ministerial alliance leader Staton, said he was impressed with the curriculum, particularly the digital component.
“From an educational standpoint, I think it is an absolute first-rate course,” he said.
Green has said he wants the academic program in thousands of schools by 2017.
“This is not about a denomination, or a religion, it’s about a book,” he told Mustang School Board members last November. “We will not try to go down denominational, religious-type roads.”
CARLA HINTON, Staff Writer