Bible class stirs controversy

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A high school Bible class being advocated by some has been the subject of controversy in school districts nationwide.

"The Bible in History and Literature," a class designed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, reportedly is being used in 290 school districts but recently was rejected as a course offering by districts in Michigan and California. It was also the subject of a 1998 legal dispute in a Florida school district.

At least two Steamboat Springs parents are backing petitions for the class to be offered as an elective at the public high school here.

Elliot Mincberg, legal director for People for the American Way and one of the lawyers involved in challenging the legality of the course, said the curriculum offered by NCBCPS is constitutionally questionable.

"We think it's really quite clear that, unless they've made some remarkable changes, the curriculum is not proper for public schools," Mincberg said Thursday. "It, in essence, accepts much of what is said in the Bible as history.

"Reporting some of those things in the Bible as historical fact essentially uses public schools to promote religion and religious beliefs as fact."

Elizabeth Ridenour, president of NCBCPS, disagrees. As evidence of the course's legality, Ridenour points to the 290 school districts across 35 states that she says use her group's curriculum.

"We do not say this or that is true or untrue," Ridenour said Thursday. "It's totally objective, nondenominational, and it does not indoctrinate in any way."

Ridenour said her North Caro--lina-based group simply wants to fill a gap in the education offered by American public schools.

"Without a working knowledge of the Bible, how can you even understand the basis of the Constitution?" Ridenour asked.

Complaints about her group and its curriculum stem from the desire of some people to keep God from the public eye, she said.

"Those groups, which are very far to the left, don't want the mention of God in any public place," she said.

Mincberg said there are legal and educationally sound methods of teaching students about the Bible and religion. He doesn't think the curriculum offered by NCBCPS is one of them.

"It certainly can be appropriate to teach about the Bible in history, such as the role the Bible has played historically," he said. "You don't want to do it in a way the violates people's rights under the Constitution."

In January, school officials in Frankenmuth, Mich., decided not to offer a course based on materials from the NCBCPS because they didn't think it would academically challenge their students.

School officials in Paradise, Calif., recently rejected a local man's push to have the Bible class offered in the high school there.

In 1998, a federal judge in Florida ruled against a school board that sought to use NCBCPS's New Testament curriculum for an elective course. In her ruling, the judge said that New Testament topics, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ and miracles associated with him, couldn't be taught in a secular way. The case appears to be the only legal challenge involving NCBCPS curriculum.

Ridenour, however, said her group's curriculum has never been challenged legally. The curriculum challenged in the Florida case wasn't that offered by NCBCPS, she said.

Michelle Diehl, one of the local parents spearheading the effort to bring the Bible class to Steamboat Springs High School, said she has no interest in a class that tells students what to believe or imparts a particular religious viewpoint. Rather, she said children should learn about the important role the Bible has played in history and literature.

The curriculum offered by NCBCPS doesn't favor one religious viewpoint over any other, Ridenour said. She said the group's curriculum has been adopted by 93 percent of the school boards confronted by parents who want the Bible class in their public schools.

"We've never had any complaints from the communities, the principals, the students, anybody," she said.

The primary textbook for the course is the Bible. The curriculum was written using the King James Bible, but school districts are free to use whichever translation they choose, according to NCBCPS's Web site.

Some critics of NCBCPS point to its leadership as evidence of its agenda: One of the group's directors is the chief counsel for the American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy. Advisory committee members include the president of the Campus Crusade for Christ International and the chairman of the Conservative Caucus.

For more information about NCBCPS, visit www.bibleinschools.net.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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