News Articles

Schools’ Bible curriculum draws national spotlight

FORT MYERS, Fla. (BP)–Florida’s Lee County School Board voted 3-2 Oct. 21 to adopt a New Testament studies curriculum for high schools in the fort Myers area, after approving an Old Testament high school curriculum in August.
The Bible-history curriculum consists of elective studies in addition to traditional history courses. Sample items require students to identify historical events in the Bible and trace their implications.
The curriculum was developed by the North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. It is taught in 22 states, according to the group.
Some groups, such as the People for the American Way, have threatened legal challenges to the curriculum, citing separation of church and state. One of their concerns is if the curriculum would attempt to indoctrinate students by teaching faith, not history.
The vote in Lee County came after a two-hour debate involving about 70 of 200 people attending the school board meeting, according to The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.
School superintendent Bruce Harter advised against the action, proposing a different Bible curriculum that would omit Jesus’ resurrection and other parts of the New Testament.
School board attorneys expressed doubt the adopted curriculum would stand up under constitutional scrutiny.
About 125 in seven high schools, among the school district’s 13,500 high school students, have signed up for an Old Testament course slated to begin in January, the Florida Baptist Witness reported.
Jay Sekulow, a religious liberty lawyer with the conservative- oriented American Center for Law and Justice, said the Bible “should not be a banned book in our culture,” in reports in USA Today and Religion News Service. “It’s been treated as if it were asbestos.” Sekulow said there are “pretty broad pockets of support for … courses in the Bible. It’s not just the evangelical community pushing it.”
A spokesperson for People for the American Way, Lisa Versaci, however, countered in the news reports, “They’re teaching the Bible as if it were historical fact. By doing that, you’re teaching schoolchildren there is only one faith. It’s not everyone’s reality, and it can’t be taught that way.”
Baptist pastors’ reactions to the decision varied. Benny Anthony, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Fort Myers, told the Florida Baptist Witness he favors the plan, noting he favors teaching the Bible in the public schools since so many young people are not getting biblical teaching at home. He expressed concern, however, that the person teaching the course be “someone who really knows the Bible,” perhaps someone with some seminary training.
Instructor qualification was one of several concerns noted by Gary Baldwin, pastor of First Baptist Church, Fort Myers, who does not support the school board’s plan.
In a church newsletter article in August, he explained: “To pay a secularly employed teacher, who may or may not have any formal training in biblical studies; to teach a curriculum that has been approved by publicly elected officials who are frequently more concerned about being re-elected than biblical truth; to have the curriculum discussed in public forums by parents to determine what is politically proper to either leave in or take out; to have a … school board determine what is to be included and excluded … ; to have non-believers serve on the study committees; and to ask public tax dollars to pay for the colossal disaster and then believe that the Bible can be taught as it is intended, is utterly ridiculous.”
Baldwin emphasized he “would love for students to study the Bible,” but suggested that could be better accomplished through church-based efforts or student Bible clubs.
Religious teaching now is offered in about 18 percent of U.S. school districts, according to USA Today and RNS.