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Sectarian elements in public school bible courses: lessons from the lone star state.

"You're just taking the historical facts, theories and philosophies, looking at people's lives. You're ... imparting information just about the facts in the Bible."--the principal of a Texas public high school offering a Bible elective in the 2005-2006 school year. (1)

If current interest in the issue indicates anything, the number of Bible courses in public schools is on the rise. Legislators introduced bills promoting elective Bible courses in at least nine states in 2006 and 2007, three of which--in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas--became laws. (2) Two national organizations are heavily marketing Bible curricula designed specifically for public schools--the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) and the Bible Literacy Project (BLP). (3) Odessa, Texas, attracted national media attention in 2005-2006, when its school district decided to teach the NCBCPS curriculum, and again in May 2007, when eight citizens filed a suit challenging the legality of the course. (4) Reports of similar controversies in other communities surface regularly in the media.

Bible courses in public schools are legal--if they are taught from a nonsectarian perspective. The 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Abington Township v. Schempp prohibited state-sponsored devotional reading of the Bible in public schools but explicitly allowed for its academic study:

It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. (5)

Confusion abounds, however, about what constitutes "objective presentation" and a "secular program of education"--in short, about what differentiates sectarian from nonsectarian--despite the availability of both popular and scholarly literature addressing the issue. A booklet, The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, provides an accessible summary of the pertinent federal district court decisions, (6) and scholarly studies include insightful discussions of educational and constitutional considerations. (7) These resources have their strengths, but two important elements are often missing from such discussions: detailed information about specific courses and the voices of biblical scholars. (8)

The present study attempts to help fill in these lacunae by evaluating recent Texas Bible courses from the perspective of a biblical scholar and in light of pertinent court rulings; doing so also provides an occasional opportunity to offer a biblical scholar's comment on the rulings themselves. (9) As will be seen, these courses often include strong sectarian elements. One suspects that evaluations of Bible courses in other states would yield similar results; a People for the American Way (PFAW) study of curricula in Florida, for example, documented the sectarian natures of the courses of fourteen school districts in the 1990s. (10)

This study's objectives are to: (1) identify and document specific areas of confusion regarding what constitutes sectarian elements in a Bible course; (2) provide information that will help educators develop more appropriate courses; (3) provide information to help safeguard the First Amendment rights of students and other citizens; and (4) contribute to interdisciplinary dialogue on these issues between scholars in religious and theological studies, church-state studies, public policy, and education. Such dialogue is necessary because, as Stephen Prothero has rightly argued, when constructing constitutional Bible courses, the devil is in the details. (11) Implementing the courses is never as straightforward as "imparting information just about the facts in the Bible."


Researchers have been lamenting the dearth of detailed information about public school Bible courses since before Abington v. Schempp. (12) Until recently, the most comprehensive study of the topic was the 2000 PFAW report. In 2005-2006, however, an investigation of such courses in Texas was undertaken by Texas Freedom Network (TFN), an Austin-based watchdog and advocacy group dedicated to advancing "a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right." (13) Citing the state's Public Information Act, the TFN Education Fund asked all 1,031 Texas districts whether they had offered a Bible course in the previous five academic years. It asked all that answered affirmatively to provide syllabi, lesson plans, lists of teacher and student resources, tests, quizzes, handouts, and descriptions of teacher qualifications. School districts were compensated for expenses incurred in this process, and eventually all complied with these requests. (14) Thirty-three school districts were identified as having offered courses since the 2001-2002 school year, with twenty-five teaching courses in 2005-2006. This author received course materials from multiple school years for the latter twenty-five districts for evaluation. Of these districts, only three (Leander, North East, and Whiteface Consolidated) offered courses that could be reasonably described as nonsectarian. In every case, the courses of the remaining districts were taught from perspectives typical of certain conservative Protestant circles. The study discovered no courses taught primarily from mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, or anti-religious perspectives. A popular-level report of these findings was published in September 2006. (15)

At 25 out of 1031, the school districts offering Bible courses constituted less than 3 percent of the state's total--a surprisingly small number for a Bible Belt state like Texas. The available data are insufficient to trace the popularity of such courses over time, but the mid-twentieth century data are instructive. Though Texas approved for-credit Bible courses in 1937, unpublished studies carried out before Abington v. Schempp show that relatively few districts offered them and that many were short-lived. (17) The low number of courses in Texas was not atypical; a nationwide survey from the same period found that only 4.51 percent of school districts offered Bible courses, though the frequency was twice as high (9 percent) in the South. (18) One wonders if such courses have ever been common, in Texas or elsewhere. (19)

The basic parameters of the situation in Texas in 2005-2006 can be quickly sketched. All courses were taught as electives, mostly in Grades 11-12, but sometimes also in Grades 9-10.20 Most schools devoted one semester to the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament and one to the New Testament, though some treated both Testaments in a single semester. Courses were typically offered as either Social Studies (sometimes as History) or English. Districts that offered courses varied considerably in size, from small rural communities to large cities, with a median total district enrollment of 3,626 students. Most courses were recent creations, appearing in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Big Spring ISD had the longest running course; the district dated it to 1932-1933, though an earlier study traced it only to the mid-1940s. (21) Either way, the district established the course during the heyday of the Weekday Religious Education movement. (22)

Bible Courses and the Law

It may be true, as Sharon Keller has noted, that in regard to many issues, "the law speaks with too many disharmonious voices on the question of religion and the schools." (23) For the most part, however, federal courts considering Bible courses have spoken with one voice, and the philosophical consistency of their rulings gives them strong precedent value. (24) Courts have generally placed considerable weight on the three-pronged "Lemon test," asking whether the school district's actions "have a secular purpose"; whether their "principal or primary effect" "advances or inhibits religion"; and whether they foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion." (25) Some have also employed the "Endorsement Test," considering whether the district's actions had the "purpose or effect of 'endorsing' religion" and whether they conveyed "a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred." (26) Wiley v. Franklin clearly articulated the basic benchmark for evaluating whether Bible courses meet such tests: "If that which is taught seeks either to disparage or to encourage a commitment to a set of religious beliefs, it is constitutionally impermissible in a public school setting." (27) Thus, it summarized, the legal issue "is not the Bible itself, but rather the selectivity, emphasis, objectivity, and interpretive manner, or lack thereof, with which the Bible is taught." (28) In short, schools may teach about religion, but they may not teach religion itself. (29)

The course materials from Texas suggest that many schools think that they are meeting the legal standards as long as they do not proselytize or explicitly advocate Christian doctrine, though some fail even these tests. What schools often do not recognize is that when their courses promote views that are held primarily within certain religious circles but not others or among the general public or the scholarly community, they are inculcating their students with particular religious beliefs while discouraging other viewpoints. (30) Indeed, as the following survey demonstrates, courses may lapse into sectarianism in a variety of ways.


In twenty districts, regular school personnel teach the courses. Only five of these teachers, however, had ever taken any higher education course work in biblical or religious studies, and the amount of their studies varied considerably. The contexts of their studies also varied, including a public school, a mainline Protestant (United Methodist) school, a non-denominational evangelical school, and an unaccredited distance-learning evangelical seminary. (31) In one district (Perryton), the teacher was a local citizen (not a regular employee) who had minored in Bible at Oral Roberts University. One suspects that the approaches to biblical studies at the various institutions attended by these teachers are quite different, with some providing more appropriate preparation for public school courses than others. The court reasoned in Wiley v. Franklin, however, that "to exclude persons by reason of a particular faith or religious educational background would be as impermissible a religious test as to require such a faith or religious educational background." (32)

Because most courses are taught by teachers with no field-specific academic training in biblical studies, it is perhaps unsurprising that most courses are problematic. When asked about teacher qualifications, a few districts pointed to teaching experience in church-related settings. One can understand the logic of appointing such individuals to teach Bible courses--their familiarity with, interest in, and passion for the material could be strong assets in the classroom. This approach is not without its potential drawbacks, however, since the selection of individuals on the basis of their congregational experiences might constitute or be construed as preferential treatment of particular religious viewpoints. Schools with well-designed nonsectarian courses probably have little to worry about on this count, but those with problematic courses might be asked to explain their processes of selection if they were legally challenged. Schools should take care to avoid giving the impression of using "any religious test, any profession of faith or any prior or present religious affiliation" when selecting a Bible teacher. (33)

In four districts (Amarillo, Coahoma, Forsan, and Duncanville), local ministers--in every case conservative Protestants--who were not regular district employees taught the course. (34) Here, schools have entered murky water, because the utilization of clergy as teachers could be understood as an endorsement of their religious traditions. For the most part, these districts appeared to provide little oversight of their courses. The potential danger of this route is illustrated most dramatically by materials from Forsan, where the teacher's lecture on the book of Jude apparently relied on sermon notes criticizing modern Christians who "are trying to mislead the Church and distort the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and who have "rejected the authority of God's Word and replaced it with their own thoughts, philosophies, and feelings." (35) In Doe v. Porter, where the teachers in question were Bible college students, the court did not look favorably upon the district's "hands-off" approach. (36) One suspects that future courts would be similarly unimpressed by districts that did not closely monitor clergy-taught courses.


Local ministerial alliances and nonprofit "Bible Committees" provided financial support for the courses in seven districts (Amarillo, Big Spring, Coahoma, Corpus Christi, Forsan, Graford, Perryton). The history of such organizations dates back to the Weekday Religious Education movement. (37) Courts have found such relationships acceptable as long as the schools themselves maintain control over teacher selection, administration, curriculum development, and course content. If, however, the organizations selected the teachers of the Amarillo, Coahoma, Forsan, and Perryton courses, that could be legally problematic, particularly if the teachers were chosen because of their religious views. (38)


Vaughn v. Reed ruled that "no religious education program should be conducted in the public schools which employs material or practices which would amount to an indoctrination of religion." (39) In most Texas courses, however, course materials are religious in nature, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly. Curricula are often locally produced and rely heavily upon handbooks, workbooks, essays, charts, and other resources created for use in evangelical churches by religious publishers (for example, Walk Thru the Bible, Gospel Light Productions, and Rose Publishing). An Amarillo Protestant minister created the curriculum used by both Amarillo and Perryton ISDs, a fact that raises entanglement and endorsement concerns, especially since it reflects Protestant beliefs. Given the use of such resources, it is not surprising that most courses do not pass muster as nonsectarian.

Eleven districts utilize the curriculum of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), a North Carolina-based Christian Right organization. (40) Seven districts follow it closely, (41) while four use it as one resource among others. (42) No doubt, these districts have been persuaded by the NCBCPS's claims that its product has been carefully vetted by scholars and has never been successfully challenged in court--claims that are inaccurate. Reviews of various editions of its curriculum have found that they strongly reflect fundamentalist Protestant beliefs such as biblical inerrancy (see below) and "young earth" creationism. (43) In addition, the curriculum encourages "Christian Americanism," the belief that the United States was founded as and should remain a distinctively Christian (i.e., conservative Protestant) nation. (44) In 1998, a Florida district court ruled in Gibson v. Lee County School Board that the New Testament portion of the NCBCPS course promoted Christian beliefs and was thus unconstitutional. Although the NCBCPS tells supporters that the ease did not implicate its curriculum, the ruling itself, local media accounts, and statements from the Lee County school district all demonstrate otherwise. (45)

Cedar Park High School in Leander ISD utilized a preliminary version of The Bible and its Influence, a textbook created by the Virginia-based Bible Literacy Project (BLP). While the BLP has received a somewhat mixed reaction in the biblical studies and civil liberties communities, even its critics acknowledge that it is a more appropriate choice than the NCBCPS curriculum. (46) Leander's course closely followed the textbook, focusing on biblical influences on art, music, literature, and polities, demonstrating awareness of different religious and scholarly views. It was easily the least sectarian course in the state.

Several other textbook assignments are also noteworthy. Two districts (Brady and North East) assigned The Bible As/in Literature, which focuses primarily on biblical imagery and allusions in western literature. (47) Because North East ISD's course followed this book so closely, it avoided potentially controversial issues and seemed to steer clear of the appearance of advocating or disparaging religious views; Brady's course was less. successful in maintaining neutrality. Two districts (Alvin and Whiteface Consolidated) used the second edition of Werner Keller's bestseller The Bible as History, which explores the relationship between biblical passages and archaeological discoveries. Although dated, idiosyncratic, and unreliable, the book (at least, in its second-edition) does not display a consistent agenda to either prove or disprove the Bible's historical accuracy. Alvin ISD was the only school district to assign a college-level textbook. This approach has the potential to raise the academic quality of a course, but whether it addresses the constitutional issues depends upon the particular textbook. In this case, the book was Robert H. Gundry's A Survey of the New Testament. Gundry, a highly respected evangelical scholar, wrote this work specifically for use in Christian colleges and seminaries, not public schools. Unfortunately, Alvin's course reflected the religious perspective of the textbook.

Several districts relied heavily on Halley's Bible Handbook, a fundamentalist Protestant classic that is now in its twenty-fifth edition. Its opening ages make its, Christian convictions clear: "How can anyone be so blind, or so dumb, as to go through life, and Face Death, without the Christian Hope?" (48) Duncanville ISD issued this book to every student in the course, while others (Brazosport, Mineral Wells, and San Angelo ISDs) made it available as a supplemental book and still others (Corpus Christi and Lindale ISDs) used it as a teacher's resource.

For many courses, the Protestant Bible was the only book assigned. At least one court has found this approach problematic, particularly when the class focuses on biblical history. Herdahl v. Pontotoc County ruled "the course may not be taught using the Bible as the only source of historical fact or as if the Bible were actual literal history." (49) This practice raises another set of issues, as well: which Bible should the course utilize?


In a nonsectarian course, even the choice of Bible can be a complicated affair. The following question from a Texas test, for example, may initially seem innocuous: "The Bible has 66 books. True of False?" The Protestant student, whose Bible consists of a 39-book Old Testament and a 27-book New Testament, may quickly circle "True." The answer is not necessarily true, however; the Jewish student with a 24-book canon or the Roman Catholic pupil with a 73-book Bible would circle false. Intentionally or not, the question both tests and teaches the notion that the Protestant Bible is the norm and Bibles of other traditions are deviations.

In contrast, Herdahl v. Pontotoc County recognized that a nonsectarian course should educate students about the compositions of different Bibles, (50) and The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide wisely recommends that "at the outset and at crucial points in the course, teachers should remind students about the differences between the various Bibles...." (51) Few Texas courses do so, however. Most give little attention to the fact that Jews do not have a New Testament, that they. use the term Tanakh rather than "Old Testament," or that the contents of the Tanakh are arranged and numbered differently, from the Protestant Old Testament, with only twenty-four books, not thirty-nine. They also give scant attention to the presence of additional books, sometimes called the Apocrypha, in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Old Testaments. Courses that do attempt to explain these differences often do so poorly, and few discuss in any detail the processes by which various canons developed.

Many Texas courses also do not seem to have taken into sufficient consideration the extent to which translations are interpretations, sometimes varying significantly in their treatment of particular words and verses, or to the ways in which preferences for particular translations function as identity markers for religious groups. While this latter fact is most obvious with Roman Catholic and Jewish translations, it is no less true of Protestant translations. In America, these issues have played out most vividly in the nineteenth-century Bible wars, when Roman Catholics protested the extensive use of the Protestant King lames Version (KJV) in public schools. Several state court rulings in the late 1800s and early 1900s affirmed that the KJV was a distinctively. Protestant translation, (52) a fact recognized more recently in Herdahl v. Pontotoc County. (53) The KJV remains a favorite of conservative Protestants in particular. In fact, For some Protestants, the KJV is the only acceptable English translation. (54) When the Revised Standard Version-(RSV) appeared in the mid-twentieth century, some evangelical churches, appalled by its rejection of some traditional readings and replacement of others with more modern wordings, responded by burning it. Other conservative Protestants responded by creating a variety of alternative modern translations, the most widely used being the New International Version (NIV). The NIV's translation choices are sometimes shaped as much by Christian theological sensibilities as by philological concerns, a fact evidenced most clearly in its rendering of Old Testament verses that Christians have traditionally interpreted as prophecies of Jesus--an interpretive strategy explicitly rejected by Jews. Recent years have witnessed a proliferation of Bible translations, including the New Revised Standard Version, which sparked a less passionate reaction than its predecessor, though many greeted its use of inclusive language with skepticism. (55)

Twelve of the twenty-five Texas Bible courses required or recommended a particular translation. In each and every case, that translation was either the KJV, the NIV, or both, sometimes presented side-by-side in a parallel edition. (56) When viewed within the context of the other materials submitted by these school districts, the preference for these translations underscores the overall Protestant nature of the courses. Not a single course assigned as its primary text one of the other Protestant translations or a Roman Catholic or Jewish translation.

Belton ISD assigned a particular edition of the Bible The NIV Study Bible, to which it frequently directed students for background information on each biblical book. As its introduction notes, "Doctrinally, The NIV Study Bible reflects traditional evangelical theology," (57) and its treatment of historicity, authorship, and other issues clearly communicate this theological emphasis. By relying so heavily on that study Bible's commentary, Belton ISD is effectively promoting its sectarian ideas. Similar issues would be raised if teachers follow the NCBCPS's recommendation to utilize the commentary provided by the dispensational premillenialist Ryrie Study Bible and an evangelical favorite, The Thompson Chain Reference Bible. (58) These study Bibles are hardly unique in having discernible theological positions, however. While some study Bibles might be characterized as nonsectarian, (59) none can claim absolute neutrality. Each attempts to nudge its reader towards particular interpretive stances. (60) Teachers should be mindful of this issue when assigning an edition or when consulting a study Bible for lecture preparation.


When a course notes that Christians and Jews traditionally regard their Bibles as divinely inspired, it is simply acknowledging a fact. When it advocates or assumes that belief, it is endorsing a religious view. Several courses did just that, sometimes going further by promoting a trademark doctrine held within some (not all) conservative Protestant circles, inerrancy, the belief that the Bible is free from any historical, scientific, or theological error. Other Christians reject this understanding of the Bible, as do members of many other religious groups; needless to say, Jews do not regard the New Testament as inerrant. (61) In Lindale ISD, though, students read and were tested over an online essay arguing for biblical inspiration, "10 Reasons to Believe in the Bible." (62) An assignment from Duncanville ISD's workbook noted, "Anyone who reads the Bible with open mind and heart is convinced that the Bible is God's word to man." (63) Brady and Big Spring school districts showed the video How the Bible Came to Be, a lengthy defense of inerrancy. (64) An Alvin ISD test asked, "What is the theological reason for studying the New Testament?" Its textbook provided the desired answer: "The theological reason is that the New Testament consists of divinely inspired accounts and interpretations of Jesus' redemptive mission in the world and forms the standard of belief and practice for the church." (65)


The courses of at least two schools bolstered sectarian claims regarding the Bible's historical and scientific accuracy by presenting pseudo-science as mainstream scholarship. Following the recommendation of the NCBCPS, Brady High School showed a creation science video on the historicity of Noah's flood. The video was produced by the Creation Evidence Museum, an organization that advocates belief in a 6-day creation, a 6,000-year-old earth, and the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans. The school also invited the museum's founder as a guest lecturer. (66) It apparently followed the NCBCPS curriculum further by teaching that NASA has discovered missing days in time that correspond to biblical stories (Joshua 10, 2 Kings 20:8-11); this claim is, of course, a thoroughly discredited urban legend. (67) Brady is not alone in its advocacy of pseudo-science. The Forsan High School Bible class recently spent two days watching the Creation Science Evangelism video Dinosaurs and the Bible. The course objective for those days was to "show agreement with Biblical record and paleontological discoveries." The school's tests demonstrated a strong promotion of "young earth" arguments, as illustrated by the following question: "Which of the following is not a proof that dinosaurs lived after the Flood?: a. cave paintings by early native Americans; b. dinosaur engravings around Bishop Bell's tomb at Carlisle cathedral in Britain; c. Barney; d. Bible description of Leviathan and Behemoth; e. Fossil footprints." The answer is presumably "c. Barney," a reference to the purple dinosaur on a children's television show. Courts have consistently prohibited the inclusion of creation science in biology, geology, and other courses. (68) Should a case be filed regarding the advocacy of creation science in Bible courses, courts are likely to reason similarly.


One can imagine sensible pedagogical reasons for requiring students in Bible courses to memorize particular passages. This practice becomes questionable, however, when the goal is faith development rather than cultural literacy. In Texas courses, memorization was a major component, with verses often seemingly selected to illustrate a theological viewpoint or life lesson. Corpus Christi ISD illustrates this common practice: a test over the book of Genesis directs students, "Write John 3:16." This New Testament verse is a linchpin of Christian theology in general and Protestant theology in particular, but its immediate relationship to Genesis is unclear. This type of requirement suggests that, from the very beginning, the course is being taught from a Christian theological perspective.


There is a considerable difference between discussing the ethical material found in the Bible and advocating particular stances on moral and social issues. On occasion, Texas courses veer towards the latter. Brady ISD asks, "What foundation for marriage did God set through Adam and Eve?" Similarly, regarding the creation story, Hamshire-Fannett ISD asks, "What does this say to us about the place of women ...? What does this say to us about God's attitude towards women?" An Alvin ISD assignment reads: "Today's morals in Christianity is [sic] based on the teachings of the Bible. The Lord told Moses in Leviticus 17-20 to tell his people (the Israelites) what they could and could not do. Pick the 15 most important don'ts and 10 of the least important don'ts (in your mind) for today's society." These chapters of Leviticus focus primarily on sexual ethics and prescribe (among other things) the death penalty for male homosexuals.


Some religious groups--most notably, certain evangelicals but also the most conservative-branches of Judaism--accept the traditional attributions of authorship of biblical books and date the composition of books as early as possible. Other religious circles, however, accept the judgments d biblical scholarship that certain biblical books developed over time and were not actually penned by the individuals traditionally considered to be their authors. Such skepticism is not necessarily considered theologically problematic. (69) For example, many scholars doubt that Moses wrote the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, that David wrote all of the Psalms traditionally associated with him, or that Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. One finds little awareness of such debates in Texas courses, however, which typically present traditional authorship claims and early dates of composition with considerable confidence, as illustrated by Hamshire Fannett ISD's argument that "most scholars agree that Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Old Testament." (70)


Perhaps no single aspect of Bible courses is more complicated than the issue of historicity. If Protestant inerrantists regard the Bible as a completely reliable historical source, most other Jewish and Christian groups and most secular scholars regard it as an important resource for historical reconstruction, but one that must be analyzed critically like other sources. For these latter groups, some biblical events can be confidently dated, but it is uncertain when or if others occurred; judgments regarding particular events vary widely. (71) Most Jews, for example, do not regard the New Testament accounts of Jesus' preexistence, virgin birth, atoning death, and resurrection as historically accurate.

Historical uncertainty rarely appears in Texas courses, many of which focus heavily on the historicity of biblical events, a fact evidenced by the course names (see Table 1). Their treatment of the Bible as straightforward history is abundantly evident in the historicizing tone and wording of the test questions posed to students. Many classes provide concrete dates for events ranging from Creation to the crucifixion, and when archaeological evidence is discussed, it is almost always cited as confirmation of the Bible's accuracy. (72) Rather than investigating the possibility that some biblical stories are logically irreconcilable with each other, many schools simply harmonize them together, a reading strategy associated primarily with conservative Protestants. Perryton ISD, for example, assigns A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels as a supplemental text. The book, the district's materials explain, "put[s] the Gospels in historical order for history teaching." Lecture notes from Corpus Christi ISD blatantly mock the idea that biblical passages might contradict each other and argue instead that differences between passages are actually proof of their reliability. Many courses characterize even biblical accounts of supernatural occurrences as literally and historically accurate. The version of the NCBCPS curriculum used by Brazosport encouraged students to accept the reliability of the story of Noah's ark by treating it as a math exercise, asking, "Approximately how many animals were on the ark the size of a rhesus monkey?" Forsan ISD showed a video that argues that ancient Chinese sources confirm the accuracy of the story of the Tower of Babel--a position unattested in reputable biblical scholarship. Alvin ISD tested students over the arguments for the historicity of the Bible's miracle stories, drawing attention to the suggestion in Gundry's textbook that critical evaluation of such stories "put[s] the claims of other religions to supernatural events in a poor light, the claims of Christianity in a favorable light...." (73) Corpus Christi ISD asked students to "cite what two historians say about the actual fact of the resurrection"; the only viewpoints included in its materials were strong affirmations of the accuracy of the resurrection accounts.

Various courts have recognized the religious dimension of historicity questions, ruling with striking consistency that a public school's depiction of the Bible as straightforward, literal history is the unconstitutional presentation of religious beliefs as fact. That problem is not assuaged when discussions of biblical history are framed as merely a renew of the biblical narratives. According to Herdahl v. Pontotoc County, "the daily teaching of the content of a book of religious proclamation does not become secular instruction merely by informing students that the content is only what the Bible says; indeed, for many students, that may well heighten the religious effect of the course." Commenting further, the court suggested that the "argument that the course can be saved (no pun intended) by prefacing each discussion of a biblical event with The Bible says ...' or noting that not everyone believes the Bible, is without persuasion." (74) For the most part, however, courts have applied the insight that historicity issues are intertwined with theological concerns only to stories of the miraculous, reasoning that espousing the historical accuracy of such stories also espouses divine intervention; they have yet to recognize fully that even more mundane biblical stories often raise serious historical questions.

Courts have sometimes overreacted in their handling of historicity issues, in my opinion. Wiley v. Franklin seemed to ban altogether discussion of some biblical stories, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and God's instructing Moses to build the Tabernacle, apparently because those stories depicted divine activity. (75) That court also prohibited a lesson focusing on the resurrection of Jesus, writing, "The account of the resurrection forms the central statement of the Christian religious faith. Its only reasonable interpretation is a religious interpretation. Its only reasonable message is a religious message. It is difficult to conceive how it might be taught as secular literature or secular history." (76) Gibson v. Lee County exhibited similar logic, noting that "it is difficult to conceive how the account of the resurrection or of miracles could be taught as secular history" and prohibited the New Testament portion of the course in question. (77) In barfing even the discussion of-miracle stories, these courts went too far. (78) One can read, study, and teach about those stories without advocating their historical accuracy; to strip a Bible course of any mention of the many stories that feature God or the supernatural is hardly a neutral approach itself. One cannot understand Judaism without understanding the traditional accounts of God's establishments of covenants with Abraham and Moses, or Christianity without understanding the importance of the resurrection accounts.


In their treatment of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, most courses present traditional Christian theological interpretations as the norm and provide no exposure to Jewish or other interpretations. Thus, courses identify the serpent in the Garden of Eden as Satan and cite various verses to support the belief in a Trinitarian God (both Christian, not Jewish, beliefs). This sectarian approach is illustrated most clearly by the very common practice of interpreting verses as prophecies of Jesus, a method that is legally problematic on two counts: it promotes Christian beliefs over Jewish and other beliefs, and it assumes that passages are supernaturally predictive. For example, during its discussion of Exodus, Brazosport shows the NCBCPS-recommended video, The Miracle of Passover, which interprets the Jewish Passover as a symbol of Christ's sacrifice and the Trinity. (79) An outline from Big Spring ISD summarizes Exodus 12-13 as "The Passover for God's-People--a picture of Jesus as our savior." Duncanville ISD teaches its students that some Psalms are "Messianic Psalms" that predict events in the life of Jesus. In Amarillo and Perryton ISDs, a study sheet notes "Prophecies to remember": "Joel 2:28-The Holy Spirit," "Isa. 7:14-Virgin Birth," "Mic. 5:2-Bethlehem birth of Jesus," and "Jer. 31:31-New covenant." A Corpus Christi ISD essay question instructs students to write about "how God's purpose and plan of the Old Testament has fulfillment in the New Testament."


Christian supersessionism--the belief that Christians replaced or superseded Jews as God's people--is a startlingly common component of Texas courses, which sometimes describe Jews as a disobedient nation that stood in need of a savior and Judaism as an inadequate religion. In Lindale ISD, a discussion of the ancient Jewish temple traces "man's progressive development in the places of worship" from "The Temple" to "the Synagogue" to "the Church." Handwritten lecture notes on the covenant with Moses from the same district read: "Did not replace the Abrahamic covenant; did not provide salvation but pointed toward future Messiah; Laws revealed-man's helpless and hopeless state without God." According to Big Spring ISD, Malachi "explains that the woes of God's people were because of their unfaithfulness, and foresees the coming-of the Messiah who would finally provide the solution to sin." Many courses also rely heavily on the New Testament for information about early Judaism, uncritically characterizing Pharisees as hypocrites and temple priests as treacherous. There seems to be little reason to think that nuanced answers are expected when a Corpus Christi ISD test asks, "Why, did Jesus tell the Jewish leaders: 'Surely evil men and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom before you do'?" or when a Blanket ISD examination asks, "Who did Jesus say was the father of the Jewish leaders?" (The answer to the latter question, drawn from John 8:44, is the devil). When discussing such verses, students should learn about the polemical contexts in which these ideas developed and the disastrous ways they have contributed to anti-Jewish sentiment--but there is no evidence of such discussion in Texas courses.


Some courses, particularly those using the NCBCPS curriculum, reflect Christian Americanist assumptions. (80) Mineral Wells ISD, whose course is ostensibly an English elective, shows the NCBCPS-recommended video Foundations of American Government, a product of WallBuilders, a Texas-based company founded by political activist David Barton to combat the separation of church and state. The video argues that the Founding Fathers intended to establish a Christian nation and that increases in sexually transmitted diseases, teen Pregnancies, divorces, and violent crimes are due to the Supreme Court's 1962 school prayer case, Engel v. Vitale. (81) Belton ISD shows the WallBuilders video America's Godly Heritage, which claims (among other things) that God intervened during the French and Indian War to save George Washington's life. (82) Rather than presenting an academically informed discussion of religious influences on American history, (83) these resources weave together de-contextualized and in some cases spurious quotations attributed to the Founding Fathers in a blatant and misleading argument against the separation of church and state. (84) Their goal is political: to encourage a notion of American identity that empowers certain forms of Christianity at the expense of others and at the expense of non-Christians. Herdahl v. Pontotoc County recognized that presenting Christian Americanist ideology as accurate history is a de facto promotion of religion and prohibited the showing of America's Godly Heritage in an American history class. Another court may soon face this issue, since it is noted in the complaint filed against the Odessa school district. (85)


Most schools seem to recognize that explicit proselytization by a teacher is illegal. Nonetheless, in at least one case, the classroom was used as a forum for outright evangelism. At Forsan ISD, the minister teaching the course presented a lecture titled "God's Road to Life" with main points that included'. "Jesus Christ is the one and only way"; "As followers of Christ we are commanded to tell the good news"; and "The Good News."


One scholar commented in 1963 that Texas's sectarian Bible courses made it "probably the most lawless state in the nation." (86) Whether this comparison holds true today is unclear, but one fact seems certain enough: most Bible classes taught in Texas are thoroughly infused with conservative Protestant presuppositions and beliefs. They promote those religious views over others and religion over "non-religion." The courses are out of s c with both mainstream biblical scholarship and with pertinent federal court rulings. Indeed, the chasm between legal rulings and local practices is often quite wide. (87)

Why do public schools offer sectarian Bible courses? For some, the reason might be outfight defiance of the law on the part of school district officials, administrators, individual teachers, and/or important segments of the larger community. In many cases, however--most cases, one hopes--confusion about the meaning of "nonsectarian and a lack of awareness of the complexity of the issues surrounding Bible courses a ear to be at fault. (88) The implication of the Texas materials is that for some schools, as long as a course does not explicitly attempt to convert students to Christianity and does not require students to subscribe to particular theological doctrines, it is considered non-sectarian. For some, being "nonsectarian" apparently means not demonstrating favoritism to one conservative Protestant position over another. This latter reasoning reflects a misguided logic that has roots in nineteenth-century debates over Bible reading and the Common School. (89) Modern federal court cases have explicitly rejected it; Wiley v. Franklin, for example, noted that "the avoidance of denominational, sectarian, doctrinal, or ritualistic differences or other areas of controversy within the Christian faith" was insufficient for meeting the Establishment Clause standard. (90) Nonetheless, courses like those described here continue to be taught, courses that are thoroughly shaped and permeated by the presuppositions and theological concerns of particular religious groups--in the ease of Texas, by conservative Protestantism. Regardless of the intention(s) behind them, their effect is to promote particular religious viewpoints. (91) However, Abington v. Schempp's language of "objective presentation" and a "secular program of education" be defined, surely these courses fall short.

The solutions to these problems are obvious: improved teacher training and resources. (92) Currently, teachers are too often asked to teach Bible courses for which they are not academically prepared, despite impressive credentials in other areas. Teachers of these courses should have sufficient training to know the general contours of biblical scholarship, be able to differentiate sectarian materials from nonsectarian, and be familiar with the pertinent First Amendment issues. As for resources, the new BLP textbook may prove to be a significant development, though more time is needed to assess whether most schools utilizing it are as successful as Leander in avoiding sectarian courses. Hopefully, other groups and individuals will also create more appropriate materials. The fact of the matter, however, is that even high-quality resources and teacher preparation might not be enough to guarantee that a given course is academically sound, legally appropriate, and acceptable to diverse community sensibilities. To navigate this maze of issues, the resource most needed is also the most elusive: the wisdom of Solomon.

(1.) Mark Babineck, "High School Class on Bible Stays the Course," Houston Chronicle, 15 May 2006.

(2.) On the 2006 bills in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee, see Mark A. Chancey, "Bible Bills, Bible Curricula, and Controversies of Biblical Proportions: Legislative Efforts to Promote Bible Courses in Public Schools," Religion & Education 34 (2007): 28-47. Bible bills were introduced in 2007 in Alabama (HB 127 and HB 862), Indiana (HB 1528), New Mexico (HB 498), Oklahoma (HB 1348, HB 2169), South Carolina (S 726), and Texas (HB 1287).

(3.) Their web sites, respectively, are and

(4.) Matt Curry, "Odessa School District Sued over Bible Elective," Houston Chronicle, 16 May 2007.

(5.) Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, at 225.

(6.) The First Amendment Center, The Bible Literacy Project, and the Society of Biblical Literature, The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide (1999), available online at

(7.) Amanda Colleen Brown, "Losing My Religion: The Controversy over Bible Classes in Public Schools," Raylor Law Review 59 (2007): 193-240; R. Murray Thomas, God in the Classroom: Religion and America's Public Schools (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005), 92-101; Joan DelFattore, The Fourth R: Conflicts over Religion in America's Public Schools (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004), 86-97; Stephen H. Webb, "The Supreme Court and the Pedagogy of Religious Studies: Constitutional Parameters for the Teaching of Religion in Public Schools," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70 (2002): 135-57; Randall G. Styers, "Liberal Values and the Public Classroom: A Response to Stephen H. Webb," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70 (2002): 159-68; Sharon Keller, "Religion and Normative Education in the Light of Current Law," Educational Policy 14 (2000): 564-81; Warren A. Nord and Charles C. Haynes, Taking Religion Seriously across the Curriculum (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Nashville, Tenn.: First Amendment Center, 1998), 167-71; and Peter S. Bracher and David L. Barr, "The Bible is Worthy of Secular Study: The Bible in Public Education Today," in The Bible in American Education: From Source Rook to Textbook, ed. David L. Barr and Nicholas Piediscalzi (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress Press; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1982), 165-97.

(8.) This situation seems likely to change; for efforts by the Society of Biblical Literature, see Mark A. Chancey, "Bible Courses in Public Schools: SBL's Response to a Growing Trend," SBL Forum, April 2007, available online at:

(9.) For different approaches within the field of biblical studies to issues discussed in this article, see the following, written from a variety of theological perspectives: Corrine L. Carvalho, Encountering Ancient Voices: A Guide to Reading the Old Testament (Winona, Minn.: Saint Mary's Press, 2006); James E. Bowley, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel's Sacred Library (Upper Saddle River, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 2008); Tremper Longman, III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2[degrees] ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006); Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 3rf ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994); Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Raymond B. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997). For more explicit discussion of religious perspectives, see two essays in Michael J. Gorman, ed., Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2005): Michael J. Gorman, "The Interpretation of the Bible in Protestant Churches," 177-94, and Ronald D. Witherup, "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches," 195-216, as well as the essays in Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael Fishbane, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

(10.) People for the American Way, The Good Book Taught Wrong: Bible History Classes in Florida Public Schools (2'" printing, 2000), available online at:; David Levenson, "University Religion Departments and Teaching about the Bible in Public High Schools: A Report from Florida," Religious Studies News: AAR Edition 17 (March 2002): 3, 7, 10, available online at:

(11.) Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--and Doesn't (San Francisco, Calif: Harper San Francisco, 2007), 277, n. 238.

(12.) Richard B. Dierenfield, Religion in American Public Schools (Washington, D. C: Public Affairs Press, 1962), 1; David B. Tyack, "Onward Christian Soldiers: Religion in the American Common School," in History and Education: The Educational Uses of the Past, ed. Paul Nash (New York: Random House, 1970), 212-55, esp. 214. On the available data (or lack thereof) for the current situation, see Mark A. Chancey, Reading, Writing, & Religion: Teaching the Rible in Texas Public Schools, updated ed. (Austin, Tex.: Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, 2006), 64-66, available online at:; and Steven P. Brown and Cynthia J. Bowling, "Public Schools and Religious Expression: The Diversity of School Districts' Policies Regarding Religious Expression," Journal of Church and State 45 (2003): 259-81.

(13.) See the website at:

(14.) Most districts were fully cooperative with the study. An exception was Forsan Independent School District (ISD), which initially implied that it offered no Bible course, but ultimately provided the requested materials. This example, while atypical, illustrates the difficulty of obtaining information about this topic.

(15.) Chancey, Reading, Writing, & Religion. On the three nonsectarian courses, see pp. 43-44.

(16.) This chart of 2005-2006 courses is reproduced from Chancey, Reading, Writing, & Religion, 9. Districts offering courses from between 2001-2002 and 2004-2005 were Arp, Aspermont, Granbury, Joshua, La Porte, Longview, Mesquite, and Riesel. Mesquite's course, however, appears to have been taught under released time (on released time, see the website at:

(17.) William August Flachmeier, "Religious Education and the Public Schools of Texas" (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 1955); Earl R. Humble, "Religious Instruction and Activities in the Public Schools of Texas: A Contemporary Survey" (Th.D. diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I960); Rudolph Charles Tatsch, "The Status of the Bible-For-Credit Program in the Public High Schools of Texas" (B.D. thesis, Texas Christian University, 1945).

(18.) Dierenfield, Religion, 50-54.

(19.) Very little data are available for other states. PFAW found 14 of Florida's 67 districts offering courses from 1996-1999 (Good Book). An earlier PFAW survey of North Carolina identified only 36 high schools in approximately 20 school systems offering Bible courses (Religion in North Carolina's Schools: The Hidden Reality [Washington, D.C. and Winston-Salem, N.C.: People for the American Way, 1983], 10, B1-B2). More recently, the BLP published a national Gallup survey in which 8 percent of public school students said that their schools offered a Bible course. See Marie Wachlin, Byron R. Johnson, and the Gallup Organization, Bible Literacy Report (Front Royal, Va.; Bible Literacy Project, 2005), 34.

(20.) Given their elective nature, most courses appear at first to pass the "Coercion Test." See Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577 (1992). Brown, however, suggests that if students were to enroll in a course on the supposition that it was secular when it was in fact sectarian, they would involuntarily receive religious instruction, in "Losing My Religion," 222.

(21.) Humble, "Religious Instruction," 253.

(22.) Robert Michaelsen, Piety in the Public School: Trends and Issues in the Relationship between Religion and the Public Schools in the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 181-85; Jonathan Zimmerman, Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 135-59. At least one court has noted that the ongoing existence of such longstanding programs can be problematic: regarding one program, Crockett v. Sorenson ruled that "there is no way ... [to] overcome the perceived aura that the classes are religious in nature. Nothing short of a clean break with the past can dispel the religious nature of the program" (568 F. Supp 1422 [W. D. Va. 1983] at 1430).

(23.) Keller, "Religion and Normative Education," 571; David McKenzie, "Separation and Accommodation in the Public Schools," Educational Horizons 82, no. 1 (2003): 21-43; and Brown and Bowling, "Public Schools."

(24.) First Amendment Center, Bible Literacy Project, and Society of Biblical Literature, Bible & Public Schools; Brown, "Losing My Religion." On individual cases, see DelFattore, Fourth R; and Robert S. Alley, Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996), 89-97, 175-209.

(25.) Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971).

(26.) County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 492 U.S. 573 (1989) at 592-93.

(27.) Wiley v. Franklin, 474 F. Supp. 525 (E.D. Tenn. 1979) at 531. The court earlier ruled against "courses [that] tend to advance the Christian religious faith" because "to the extent that it [i.e., a course] does so advance the Christian faith, it tends to inhibit other religious faiths." See Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. 133 (E. D. Tenn. 1979) at 151.

(28.) Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. at 150.

(29.) For this formulation of the problem, see the statement crafted by a variety of religious, educational, and civil liberty groups, "Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law," available online at:; Kent Greenawalt, Does God Belong in Public Schools? (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 64-68.

(30.) For an earlier example of such confusion, see Doe v. Human, 725 F. Supp. 1499 (W.D. Ark. 1989), and Doe v. Human, 725 F. Supp. 1503 (W.D. Ark. 1989).

(31.) The teachers mentioned here taught, respectively, in Leander, Graford, North East, and Big Spring ISDs. Belton ISD's teacher had fourteen credit hours in Bible at an unspecified school.

(32.) Wiley v. Franklin, 497 F. Supp. 390 (E. D. Tenn. 1980) at 393; Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. at 146.

(33.) Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. at 152; Wiley v. Franklin, 497 F. Supp. at 393, and Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, 933 F. Supp. 582 (N.D. Miss. 1996) at 599.

(34.) Amarillo ISD noted in its materials that the religious backgrounds of its teachers have varied over the years, including a rabbi in at least one case.

(35.) These notes were included in the course materials submitted by the district.

(36.) Doe v. Porter, 188 F. Supp. 2d. 904; Herdahl v. Pontotoc County at 599, and Vaughn v. Reed, 313 F. Supp. 431 (1970) at 434.

(37.) Michaelsen, Piety, 181-85; Zimmerman, Whose America?, 135-59.

(38.) Crockett v. Sorenson at 1431; Herdahl v. Pontotoc County at 593-94; Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. at 150-52; Vaughn v. Reed at 434.

(39.) Vaughn v. Reed at 434.

(40.) At eleven, the number of Texas school districts using this curriculum is considerably lower than the fifty-two claimed by the NCBCPS on its web site (that number has recently been removed). This discrepancy calls into serious question the council's claim that its curriculum is used in over 420 districts nationwide.

(41.) These include Brady, Brazosport, Celina, Graford, Mineral Wells, San Angelo, and Sweetwater ISDs.

(42.) These include Alvin, Hamshire-Fannett, Lindale, and Perryton ISDs.

(43.) Mark A. Chancey, "A Textbook Example of the Christian Right: The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75 (2007): 554-81, and The Bible in Public Schools: Report on the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (Austin, Tex.: Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, 2005), available online at:; Frances R. A. Paterson, "Anatomy of a Bible Course Curriculum," Journal of Law and Education 32 (2003): 41-65; Brown, "Losing My Religion."

(44.) On the designation of this movement as "'Christian Americanism," see Chancey, "Textbook Example." See also Catherine A. Lugg, "The Christian Right: A Cultivated Collection of Interest Groups," Educational Policy 15 (2001): 41-57; Fritz Detwiler, Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right's Fight to Redefine America's Public Schools (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 102-30, 193-95, 250-51; DelFattore, Fourth R, 249-54; Chancey, Bible in Public Schools; Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 252-64; Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (New York: Guilford, 1996).

(45.) Gibson v. Lee County School Board, 1 F. Supp. 2d 1426 (M.D. Fla. 1998); Chancey, "Textbook Example." See below for additional discussion of the Court's ruling.

(46.) Chancey, "Bible Bills"; Brown, "Losing My Religion"; Steven L. McKenzie, "Review of The Bible and its Influence," available online at:

(47.) James s. Aekerman and Thayer S. Warshaw, The Bible As/in Literature, 2nd ed. (Glennville, Ill.: SeottForesman, 1995).

(48.) Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook, 25th ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000). The 24th edition (1965) is also often used. The quote above comes from the 24th ed., 22; the 25th ed., 14.

(49.) Herdahl v. Pontotoc County at 600.

(50.) Ibid. at 595.

(51.) First Amendment Center, Bible Literacy Project, and Society of Biblical Literature, Bible & Public Schools, 13.

(52.) DelFattore, Fourth R, 12-51; Tracy Fessenden, "The Nineteenth-Century Bible Wars and the Separation of Church and State," Church History 74 (2005): 784-811. On state court cases, see Donald E. Boles, The Bible, Religion, and the Public Schools (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1961), and Michaelsen, Piety, 170.

(53.) Herdahl v. Pontotoc County at 594, 595.

(54.) James R. White, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modem Translations? (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1995).

(55.) Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991); Harry M. Orlinsky and Robert G. Bratcher, A History of Bible Translation and the North American Contributions (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1991); Peter J. Thuesen, In Discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Bruce M. Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001).

(56.) KJV: Duncanville, Lindale ISDs; NIV: Belton, Big Spring, Coahoma, Forsan, San Angelo, Sweetwater ISDs; parallel KJV/NIV: Alvin, Brady, Mineral Wells ISDs; either KJV or NIV: Corpus Christi ISD.

(57.) Kenneth Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), xv.

(58.) Charles C. Ryrie, ed., Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, various editions); Frank Charles Thompson, ed., Thompson Chain Reference Bible (Indianapolis, Ind.: B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., various editions).

(59.) The HarperCollins Study Bible, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), for example, includes commentary from scholars of a variety of backgrounds, including Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews.

(60.) Michael J. McClymond, "Through a Gloss Darkly: Biblical Annotations and Theological Interpretation in Modern Catholic and Protestant English-Language Bibles," Theological Studies 67 (2006): 477-97.

(61.) The Roman Catholic Church has a quite different understanding of inerrancy and explicitly rejects the conservative Protestant notion. See Pontifical Biblical Commission, "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" (1993), available online at:

(62.) See the website at:

(63.) Catherine B. Walker, Bible Workbook, vol. 1 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1952), 4.

(64.) How the Bible Came to Be (Muskegon, Mich.: Gospel Films, 1978).

(65.) Gundry, Survey, 16-17.

(66.) On Carl Baugh, the museum's founder, see Glen J. Kuban, "A Matter of Degree: Carl Baugh's Credentials," National Center for Science Education Reports 9:6 (1989): 15-20, updated online at:

(67.) Jan Harold Brunvand, The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 137-48; see the "Ask an Astrophysicist" section of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center website at:

(68.) Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968); McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255 (1982); Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987). On the more recent movement of "Intelligent Design," see Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F.Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).

(69.) See, for example, Pontifical Biblical Commission, "Interpretation of the Bible."

(70.) This claim is found in course materials submitted by the district.

(71.) See Doe v. Human, 725 F. Supp. at 1501.

(72.) Whiteface Consolidated ISD was an exception; although its course courts controversy by making historical issues its focus, the materials it provided for the study do not reflect an agenda to prove or disprove the Bible's historical accuracy.

(73.) Gundry, Survey, 115-16.

(74.) Herdahl v. Pontotoc County at 596-97.

(75.) Wiley v. Franklin, 497 F. Supp. at 394-96. The decision does not make its reasoning on this matter clear.

(76.) Wiley v. Franklin, 474 F. Supp. at 531.

(77.) Gibson v. Lee County, at 1434. This court accurately perceived the NCBCPS curriculum as sectarian, but its own reasoning is confused on two other counts: first, in its implication that students could not even read the New Testament because of the supernatural activity depicted in the resurrection accounts and second, in its apparent assumption that the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, in contrast to the New Testament, is straightforward history.

(78.) See Mare D. Stern's criticism of such reasoning in Religion and the Public Schools: A Summary of the Law (New York: American Jewish Congress, 1994), frequently updated online at:

(79.) Zola Levitt, The Miracle of Passover (Irving, Tex.: Berg Productions, 1999).

(80.) On Christian Americanism, see the resources cited earlier.

(81.) Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962).

(82.) David Barton, Foundations of American Government (Aledo, Tex.: WallBuilders, 1992), and America's Godly Heritage (Aledo, Tex.: WallBuilders, 1992).

(83.) David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 2005); Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003); Derek H. Davis, Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Contributions to Original Intent (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); and Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden, The Search for Christian America (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Helmers and Howard, 1989).

(84.) Derek H. Davis and Matthew McMearty, "America's "Forsaken Boots': The Use and Abuse of Founders' Quotations," Journal of Church and State 47 (2005): 449-72; Robert S. Mley, "Public Education and the Public Good," William and Mary Bill of Bights Journal 4 (1995): 277-350.

(85.) Complaint in Moreno v. Ector County Independent School District, available online at:

(86.) Paul Blanshard, Religion and the Schools: The Great Controversy (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1963), 110.

(87.) This is not a new problem; see Tyack, "Onward"; Dierenfield, Religion; Zimmennan, Whose America?, 166-67.

(88.) Sandra B. Oldendorf and Connie R. Green, "Listening to Teacher Voices: Religion in Schools in the Rural South," Religion & Education 32, no. 2 (2005): 65-84; Brown and Bowling, "Public Schools"; DelFattore, Fourth R; Michaelsen, Piety; and Tyack, "Onward."

(89.) Michaelsen, Piety; Boles, Bible, 23-27, 58-135; Greenawalt, Does God Belong?, 13-22; James W. Fraser, Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in Multicultural America (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), 23-66; R. Laurence Moore, "Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling: The Failure of Religious Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Public Education," Journal of American History 86 (2000): 1581-99.

(90.) Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. at 151, esp. 138.

(91.) Doe v. Human, 725 F. Supp. 1503, and Hall v. Board of School Commissioners of Conecuh County, 656 F. 2d 999 (1981.).

(92.) Arthur Gilbert, "Reactions and Resources," in Theodore R. Sizer, ed., Religion and Public Education (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967), 37-83; Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, "Religion in the Curriculum,'" Journal of the American Academy of Religion 55 (1987): 569-88; Michael D. Waggoner, "'Reading the Terrain: Environmental Factors Influencing Religious Literacy Initiatives in Educator Preparation," Educational Horizons 82 (2003): 74-84; Michaelsen, Piety, 248-49; Bracher and Barr, "Bible," 191.

* MARK A. CHANCEY (B.A., M.A., University of Georgia; Ph.D., Duke University) is associate professor, Department of Religious Studies, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Southern Methodist University. He is author of Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus and The Myth of a Gentile Galilee. His articles have appeared in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Religion and Education, New Testament Studies, Near Eastern Archaeology, and Currents in Research: Biblical Studies. Special interests include New Testament studies, early Judaism, the Archaeology of Palestine in the Greco-Roman period, and the Bible and public education. He is also author of two reports on Bible courses and public schools for Texas Freedom Network (, and the co-chair, the Society of Biblical Literature's Working Group on the Bible and Public Education. The author would like to thank Kathy Miller, Ryan Valentine, Dan Quinn, Judie Niskala and Sara Struckman of Texas Freedom Network Education Fund for making this study possible by obtaining materials from Texas schools.
Table 1 Texas Districts Offering a Bible Course in 2005-2006 (16)

Independent               District
School District (ISD)    Enrollment   Course Title

Alvin                      12,528     Bible History
Amarillo                   29,712     Bible History

Belton                      7,137     The Bible as Literature
Big Spring                  3,768     Bible History
Blanket                       238     Bible History
Brady                       1,348     Bible History
Brazosport                 13,029     The Bible in History and
Brenham                     4,919     Bible
Celma                       1,400     The Bible in History and
Coahoma                       794     The Bible as History
Corpus Christi             38,978     Bible Survey

Duncanville                11,938     Bible Studies

Forsan                        650     Humanities
Graford                       344     Bible History
Greenville                  5,146     Bible Study
Hamshire-Fannett            1,811     Bible History
Leander                    19,877     Influence of the Old Testament
                                        on American Culture
Lindale                     3,206     Special Topics in Social Studies

Millsap                       813     Bible History
Mineral Wells               3,626     The Bible in History and
North East                 57,265     Literature of the Bible
(San Antonio)
Perryton                    2,035     Bible
San Angelo                 14,653     Foundations of Bible History
Sweetwater                  2,190     The Bible in History and
Whiteface Consolidated        355     Bible History

Independent                                         First
School District (ISD)    Course Type                Offered

Alvin                    Social Studies             2001-2002
Amarillo                 Special Course             prior to 1974
Belton                   English                    1996-1997
Big Spring               Humanities                 1932-1933
Blanket                  Social Studies             2003-2004
Brady                    Local Special Elective     1997-1998
Brazosport               Special Topics in Social   1999-2000
Brenham                  Social Studies             unknown
Celma                    Literature                 2005-2006

Coahoma                  Humanities                 2003-2004
Corpus Christi           Special Topics in Social   1980s or
                           Studies                  earlier
Duncanville              Special Topics in Social   2000-2001
Forsan                   Humanities                 2001-2002
Graford                  History                    2003-2004
Greenville               History                    1993-1994
Hamshire-Fannett         History/Social Studies     2005-2006
Leander                  Special Topics in Social   2005-2006
Lindale                  Special Topics in Social   1999-2000
                           Studies: History
Millsap                  Social Studies/History     2005-2006
Mineral Wells            English                    2004-2005

North East               English                    1996-1997
(San Antonio)
Perryton                 History                    2001-2002
San Angelo               English                    2002-2003
Sweetwater               Special Topics in Social   2005-2006
Whiteface Consolidated   Special Topics in Social   2004-2005
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Author:Chancey, Mark A.
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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