ACLU strongly urges schools to reject bible-related textbook

MONTGOMERY, AL - The ACLU of Alabama strongly urges the State Board of Education to reject a proposed Bible curriculum textbook for use in Alabama school systems.  While it is constitutional for public schools to teach courses on the Bible - if done objectively, and not from a devotional perspective - the proposed Bible curriculum is devotional and doctrinaire, not objective, and is designed to promote a particular version of Protestant Christianity.

"The Bible in History and Literature," a textbook created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), was recently recommended by the state textbook committee for the State Board's approval.

The curriculum is deeply flawed and constitutionally deficient in many ways.  The textbook presents the Bible from the perspective of Christianity in general, and a particular interpretation of Protestant Christianity specifically.  Additionally, the curriculum also teaches the Bible as literal, historical truth, contrary not only to a variety of Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Jewish interpretations, but also to many other Protestant interpretations.  The textbook also shows no serious familiarity with scholarly debate over the date and authorship of the Bible.  Rather than presenting students with an objective sampling of the many different interpretations that scholars and theologians have made, it presents as self-evident one particular viewpoint that assumes that the Bible is literally true and inerrant.  Furthermore, the NCBCPS course promotes a particular religious interpretation of American history that is not part of objective historical scholarship, and instead provides an inaccurate, monolithic view of the Founding Fathers - well known for their religious diversity - as champions of a Protestant Christian nation.

"While the theological viewpoints expressed in the NCBCPS curriculum are constitutionally protected when taught in Sunday school, they are not appropriate to be taught in public school," said Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama.

Given the myriad, pervasive constitutional flaws in the NCBCPS curriculum, its use in public schools has not withstood legal scrutiny.  Last May, the ACLU and a coalition of allies filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight parents in Odessa, Texas, challenging the NCBCPS curriculum as a violation of their religious liberty under the First Amendment.  The school district settled the suit by abandoning the curriculum and agreeing to never again teach an NCBCPS-based course.  Also, a federal court in Lee County, Florida, enjoined as unconstitutional an earlier version of the NCBCPS curriculum in 1998.

Any school district that teaches a Bible course using the NCBCPS curriculum runs the considerable risk of lengthy, expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful litigation.  The potential costs of using these dubious textbooks are substantial, both in terms of school districts' legal expenses and Alabama students' and parents' religious liberty.

"It would be far better for Alabama schools to spend limited taxpayer resources offering legitimate, constitutionally acceptable courses, than to pay lawyers to defend unconstitutional efforts to promote particular religious doctrines," added Olivia Turner.