E-News for ACLU-AL Friends

September 2008
FIGHTING FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES IN ALABAMA SINCE 1965

National ACLU News

ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief Successfully Challenges Bible Classes in Texas Public Schools

The ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief scored a resounding victory this Spring when it settled a highly-publicized lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a curriculum used in a bible course taught in a west Texas public school district. The settlement agreement mandated that the unconstitutional curriculum not be used after the current school year. It also halted the efforts of the curriculum's developer – the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) – to get its biased curriculum into as many Texas public schools as possible.

"Parents, not public schools, should teach religious beliefs to children," says Dr. T. Jeremy Gunn, Director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "Governments and public schools have no business deciding which religious beliefs are true and then using public schools to proselytize children."

The NCBCPS course has been seriously criticized by Bible scholars for its lack of accuracy, ignorance of scholarly research, and biased promotion of a particular religious interpretation of the Bible.  Although the NCBCPS defends its curriculum as being constitutional, its own website at one time revealed a different agenda, urging people to contact NCBCPS as a “first step to get God back in your public school” – a designation that was removed after the lawsuit was filed.

To learn more about this case, visit www.aclu.org/bibleinpublicschools.

ACLU of Alabama News

ACLU Delivers Testimony to Alabama State Textbook Committee Regarding Bible Curriculum

On September 9, the Alabama State Textbook Committee held a public hearing to consider adoption of a proposed new text for an elective course. The textbook under consideration was created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) and was an updated edition of the textbook that the ACLU successfully challenged in the recent Texas case. Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, attended the hearing and provided testimony urging the committee not to approve the NCBCPS materials.

While it is constitutional for public schools to teach courses on the Bible, other religious texts, or religion, it must be done objectively, and not from a devotional perspective. Unsurprisingly, some people would like to use public schools as a means of promoting their particular religious beliefs. Their goal is not to have students learn about religion in a constitutionally permissible way, but to use public schools to persuade children to accept and believe in their particular religious views. One of the more egregious examples of this problem is the NCBCPS and its devotional curriculum designed to promote a particular version of Protestant Christianity.

Among the many reasons the NCBCPS curriculum is deeply flawed and constitutionally deficient is that it teaches the Bible as literal, historical truth. This is contrary not only to a variety of Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Jewish interpretations, but also to many other Protestant interpretations.

The curriculum also shows no serious familiarity with the scholarly debate over the dating 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 infallible.

Additionally, the NCBCPS course promotes a particular religious interpretation of American history that is not part of objective historical scholarship. The religious diversity of the Founding Fathers is well known, as is the favoritism of many prominent Founders towards Deism. The NCBCPS curriculum, however, handpicks quotations – few of which are actually sourced, most of which are taken out of contest, and many of which are entirely spurious – to present not an objective view of American history, or indeed even an acknowledgment of multiple interpretations, but instead to provide an inaccurate, monolithic view of the Founders, including Thomas Jefferson, as champions of a Protestant Christian nation.

Given the myriad, pervasive constitutional flaws in the NCBCPS curriculum, its use in public schools cannot withstand legal scrutiny. Any school district that teaches a bible course using the NCBCPS curriculum runs the considerable risk of lengthy, expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful litigation. 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.

We await the decision of the Alabama State Textbook Committee.

ACLU-AL in the News!

Complaint filed because of prayer prior to hearing: More information on our complaint against Covington County Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan. (Mobile Press-Register, August 14, 2008)

State's felon voting law still unclear: Excellent article explaining the complexities and confusion surrounding Alabama’s felon voting law. (Montgomery Advertiser, August 18, 2008)

 

 

Thank you for your continued support of civil liberties in Alabama!

Olivia Turner
Executive Director, ACLU of Alabama

207 Montgomery Street, Suite 910, Montgomery, Alabama 36104
T: 334-262-0304 | F: 334-269-5666 | info@aclualabama.org

www.aclualabama.org