DAILY PRESS AND ARGUS: Howell School Board Rejects Bible Elective

Howell, Michigan – January 9, 2007

School won’t have Bible as literature class
by Dan Meisler

The Howell Public Schools Board of Education opted against approving an elective class on the Bible as literature on Monday, but the debate at the board meeting would make a good lesson plan on comparative views of religion and education.

People from the statewide chapters of the groups American Atheists, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the American Family Association gave their thoughts on whether the Bible has a place in public schools, as did several parents of students in the Howell schools.

Most of the opinions were in favor of the class, despite objections that it violates the separation between church and state.

But when school board member Wendy Day made a motion to approve the curriculum, it died because none of the other six board members would second it, which is needed before a vote can be taken.

Earlier Monday, the Howell Public Schools district announced that the curriculum had been reviewed and rejected by the K12 Social Studies Curriculum Committee.

When asked about her motion dying, Day said, “That’s OK, I expected it.” But she added that she thinks the board should be more active and not wait for a committee of teachers to approve curriculum. “The board should have a more active and responsible role,” she said. The discussion on the Bible class lasted well over an hour. Activist Arlene-Marie of the atheist group started things off with a speech that criticized the developers of the curriculum and the quality of the class itself. Arlene-Marie, who goes by one name, also blasted the idea that America is founded on Christianity, an argument she said is often made in support of Bible classes in public schools. “The truth is, America is the most culturally and religiously diverse nation on earth,” she said. “And an above-average seventh-grader should know that we are governed by a secular document, the U.S. Constitution, which makes no mention of God, Jesus, Christianity or the Bible.”

Gary Glenn of the AFA, a self-described “family-values” group that is supporting a boycott on Ford Motor Co. because it gives benefits to same-sex partners of employees, said the curriculum passes constitutional scrutiny. He brought up the Howell district’s refusal to post the motto “In God We Trust” in the schools; allowing a rainbow diversity flag to be displayed in the high school, which he said promoted homosexuality; and rules on how much religious music is allowed at concerts. “There is clearly an agenda being run on this school board,” he said. He said that 94 percent of the school districts faced with a vote on the curriculum approve it, and added that Howell would be “among the fringe element, frankly,” if it didn’t.

Hal Downs of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, however, framed the issue as one of the sanctity of religion. He said Christianity is already taught at churches and in people’s homes, and that bringing it into the schools would expose religious instruction to the “corrupting influence of government.”

“This would usurp Christianity by transferring responsibility of teaching the Bible to public schools,” he said. “Leave my religion alone. We don’t need your help, thank you.” Downs, Marie and Glenn all came to Howell to speak from outside the county, a fact not lost on local members of the audience or school board trustees.

School board member Philip Westmoreland said he didn’t appreciate nonresidents making judgments on past controversies without knowing both sides. “This was a photo-op for them,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we will not see them in the district again.”
Day agreed, and her ire was directed at the atheists, who had to retract a statement in a letter to the school board that the curriculum had been ruled unconstitutional. Marie apologized for that, but Day — who took some heat recently for posting information on her personal Web site publicizing an anti-abortion protest at local schools — was not happy.

“It’s offensive that people come into this district and lie to us and try to intimidate us,” she said. Opinions from district parents were mixed. “I would welcome the Bible being taught in the Howell Public School system,” Sharon Baldwin said to a smattering of applause. Valerie Webster, on the other hand, disagreed: “I do not feel the public school is a good place for Bible study.”
Andrew Ketchum wondered if other holy books would be given equal time: “Are we going to teach the Quran? The Talmud? Are we going to teach Buddhist texts?”

Tim Thatcher, a parent who first proposed the Bible curriculum in December, said the stories in the Bible could inspire students. He recounted part of the biblical story of Joseph as an example, and said that the class does not promote any particular doctrine or religious outlook. “Joseph stood up for what’s right.” he said. “It’s not doctrinal. It’s not taught that way.” After the meeting, Thatcher said he wasn’t sure whether he’d continue to pursue the class. He said he wasn’t particularly disappointed or surprised by the vote against the curriculum. “I realize when you bring things like this up, people take it the wrong way,” he said.

The class was created and promoted by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which is affiliated with the American Family Association. It was reviewed by a committee of social studies teachers, which decided not to recommend it, according to a press release from the district. “Without a recommendation from a curriculum content area to adopt the Bible curriculum, it will not be considered at the district curriculum council,” the press release said.

The school district’s announcement Monday afternoon said that the social studies teachers had concluded that another class — world religion — covers the same ground as the proposed Bible class.

You can read the Daily Press and Argus article here.

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