Texas school board agrees to stop teaching unconstitutional Bible lessons in public schools

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Settlement with Ector County School Board will prevent unconstitutional curriculum from being taught

ODESSA, TX – The Ector County School Board agreed today to stop teaching a course in its public schools that unconstitutionally promotes a particular interpretation of the Bible that is not shared by Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and most Protestants.

The agreement settles a federal lawsuit filed in May 2007 that was brought by eight Odessa parents and taxpayers who argued that the course, created by a religious organization, violated their constitutional right to religious freedom by promoting religious doctrines specific to children in their community. The parents were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, the People For the American Way Foundation and the law firm Jenner and Block LLP.

“This agreement is a victory for those who want religious education to be in the hands of parents, not public school officials,” said Dr. T. Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU’s Freedom of Education program. religion and belief. “It is unacceptable for government officials to decide which religious beliefs are true and which are not, and then use the public school system as a means of proselytizing among children.

The lawsuit challenged the school board’s decision last year to teach a controversial Bible course created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), a private group that promotes its own particular interpretation of the Bible. The NCBCPS has been criticized by prominent biblical scholars for its religious bias and unhealthy scholarship.

Under the agreement, schools in Ector County cannot teach the current course after this school year. If the board decides to offer a different Bible course in the future, the course must follow strict legal standards of objectivity and may not be based on the NCBCPS curriculum.

“Public schools can offer Bible lessons if they do so in an objective and balanced way,” said Judith E. Schaeffer, legal director of People For the American Way Foundation. “But the evidence is overwhelming that these constitutional principles have been ignored in Ector County schools. The students learned a religious interpretation of the Bible. This is not only violating the Constitution, it is also giving students a bad education.

The elective was taught at two high schools in Odessa, Texas – Permian High School and Odessa High School.

Among other things, the Bible course asked students to give “true” or “wrong” answers to questions that should be a matter of religious faith. Public school teachers sought to promote religious life classes by asking students to memorize Bible passages and then discuss how the passages affected their lives, the groups that filed the complaint said. The course also presented an unbalanced view of American history that promoted specific religious beliefs that conflicted with objective scientific standards.

Douglas C. Hildebrand, a former ordained and deacon of a local Presbyterian church and one of the longtime residents of Odessa who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said it was inappropriate to promote a set of religious beliefs over to others.

“Religion is an essential part of my life and the life of my family, but this course has only defended certain religious opinions which are not shared by everyone,” said Hildebrand. “It’s like a church has invaded the public school system – and it wasn’t my church.”

Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, said scholarship was never the primary focus of the course.

“This class was never dedicated to the education of students, but rather to the promotion of a particular set of religious beliefs to the exclusion of all others,” Graybill said. “There are a number of ways in which the role of religion in society, history and literature can be constitutionally taught to students, but that was clearly not the focus of this particular course.”

The NCBCPS course has been seriously criticized by Bible scholars for its lack of precision, ignoring scientific research, and biased promotion of a particular religious interpretation of the Bible. Although the NCBCPS defends its agenda as constitutional, its own website at one point revealed a different agenda, urging people to contact the NCBCPS as “the first step to bringing God back to your public school” – a designation that has been removed after trial. filed.

According to Daniel Mach, litigation director of the ACLU’s Freedom of Religion and Belief Program, Ector County school officials now have a much clearer understanding of what the Constitution does and does not allow.

“The agreement gives the school board a clear roadmap should it decide to adopt a new course,” Mach said. “We are confident that any future curriculum will be appropriate for students of all faiths – including non-believers – and will respect the religious freedom of all Odessans.”

A copy of the original complaint is available online at:
www.aclu.org/religion/schools/29683lgl20070516.html

Additional information about the case and the issue of religious education in public schools can be found online at:
www;.aclu.org/bibleinpublicschools or
www.pfaw.org/go/ReligiousFreedom

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