Oklahoma school district accepts Bible curriculum that says sinners must ‘suffer’ for disobeying God

Adam Clayton, Bono, Larry Mullen, Jr., and The Edge (L to R), from the band U2, pose backstage with their award for Best Original Song for
The band U2 (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

A suburban Oklahoma City  public school district has adopted a curriculum for high schools that its backers say uses Bible stories to teach subjects such as history and the arts and that says all sinners must “suffer the consequences” of disobeying God. It also says that some U2 songs are based in the Psalms.

The Associated Press reported in this story that  the Mustang School District, which has 13 schools with more than 9,500 students, approved the curriculum this month and is using it for a year to see if teachers and students like it.

The curriculum is supported by Steve Green, the president of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores. Hobby Lobby has has sued the federal government, saying that President Obama’s health-care law violated the religious freedom of the people who own the company because it says that employers have to pay for insurance that allows women to get birth control. The AP quotes Green — who is on the board of the Museum of the Bible, which designed the curriculum — as telling Mustang board members late last year:

“This is not about a denomination, or a religion, it’s about a book. We will not try to go down denominational, religious-type roads.”

The museum’s Web site says:

The Bible is arguably the most significant piece of literature ever written, with tens of thousands of people having died to access and translate it. We live in a new ‘Dark Ages’ of sorts, where Bible literacy is polling at an all-time low. That is why we are developing a curriculum for public schools grades 9-12. The courses will be offered as electives and will follow the same format as “The Book.” A year each will be devoted to the history, stories and impact of the Bible with the 9th grade year a survey of all three.

The curriculum is designed to be scholarly and non-sectarian. As the students take these courses, both students and teachers will be in constant touch with our researchers receiving real time updates on new developments and discoveries. The opportunity to also travel to The Book in Washington will also make their course work come alive! It is essential that American students have the opportunity to study this book that is a truly primary document of Western civilization. In today’s modern Information Age, it simply makes no sense that educated people wouldn’t know about a book that has changed and shaped the course of human history.

The Associated Press got a copy of the curriculum from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. It says that students learn that God is always there to support them but that sinners must “suffer the consequences” of disobeying God. The AP story says:

While the course does explain the inspiration behind famous works of art and holds a prism to historical events, it also endorses behavior for religious reasons and implies that bad things happen as a direct result of disregarding God’s rules….

Among the topics covered by the curriculum are the role of religion in early America, discussing the New World as a haven for those seeking to escape religious persecution. It also talks about the role of religion in art, citing the role of patrons such as the Catholic church and wealthy families during the Renaissance….

The book also uses popular culture, mentioning songs written by U2 that it says are based in the Psalms, to illustrate the Bible’s modern relevance. It does not name specific compositions.

The AP quoted Andrew Seidel, a lawyer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as saying that the curriculum phrases passages that favor Christianity. For example, it asks,  “How do we know that the Bible’s historical narratives are reliable?” instead of simply asking if the Bible is historically accurate. The AP also reported that Sean McDaniel, the school district’s superintendent, said:

“We’re not asking kids to believe the stories. This is a purely academic endeavor. If it turns into something beyond that, either we will correct it or we will get rid of it.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · April 25