The Hobby Lobby Bible Curriculum and the Constitution

By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor

“It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities.”

Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225 (1963) (Justice Clark)

“The nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. . . . If we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”

-Steve Green, Templeton Biblical Values Award acceptance speech, April 15, 2013.


The three children of Edward and Sidney Schempp attended public school in Abington, Pennsylvania in the 1950s. A Pennsylvania statute in effect at the time mandated that, “At least ten verses of the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day. Any child shall be excused from such Bible reading, or attending Bible reading, upon the written request of his parent or guardian.” The readings were followed by recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mr. and Mrs. Schempp, as practicing Unitarians, objected that various doctrines contained in the readings violated their religious beliefs and sought to enjoin the exercises as a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that the Pennsylvania law violated the principle of “strict neutrality” required under the First Amendment. Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).

But while the Court found the statute unconstitutional due to its openly sectarian character, it emphasized that its ruling did not preclude entirely the use of the bible as a valuable educational source. “Nothing we have said here indicates that the study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.” 374 U.S. at 225. The test of constitutionality, said the Court, is whether a statute has “a secular legislative purpose and a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion.” 374 U.S. at 222.

In the years since the Schempp decision, a variety of academic programs incorporating the bible have been successfully implemented in public schools in a number of states. But there is about to be one more, and the early indications are that this one won’t pass constitutional muster. The bible curriculum is the newest project of Steve Green, the President and CEO of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the company currently contesting the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate in the U.S. Supreme Court. And the school board in Mustang, Oklahoma, only a few miles from Hobby Lobby’s headquarters in Oklahoma City, has already voted to offer the course as an elective at Mustang High School in the fall of this year, despite the fact that the proposed textbook has yet to be made publicly available for review. Mustang school superintendent Sean McDaniel has defended the decision, stating that the curriculum “has been through a rigorous review to check for bias and ensure the content is neutral.” He also says that more than 170 students have already indicated a desire to take the course.

Mr. McDaniel’s enthusiasm is premature, because there is mounting evidence that the proposed course will be largely a primer on conservative evangelical Christianity that, despite its likely popularity in Mustang, will be unable to survive a constitutional challenge.

No one can doubt the religious sincerity of the Green family. It has amassed the largest collection of bibles and biblical artifacts in the world, more than 40,000 items. The collection is to be housed in a multi-million dollar museum scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. in 2017. The family has also formed what is known as the Green Scholars Initiative, described on its web site as an organization of “the world’s leading textual scholars to research and produce scholarship around items in The Green Collection while mentoring students in their respective fields of expertise.” But the Green family’s intense commitment to its own brand of fundamentalism does not lend itself to the development of a detached, academic study of biblical topics.

Consider first Steve Green’s own words. Mr. Green was awarded the Templeton Biblical Values Award in 2013. In his acceptance speech given on April 15th of last year he discussed the Green Scholars Initiative and his desire to develop a bible curriculum for public schools, a curriculum which he wishes to become “mandatory” for high school students in the years ahead. And the goal? “The book that we have is a reliable historical document,” he said. “When we present the evidence, the evidence is overwhelming. … Discovery after discovery supports the history, the accuracy of this book.” (Mr. Green’s speech is available in its entirety on You Tube).

The mission statement included in the 501(c)(3) tax filings of the proposed bible museum confirms Mr. Greens insistence on the literal truth of the bible. It reads, “To bring to life the living word of God, to tell its compelling story of preservation, and to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the bible.” The chief operating officer of the new museum is Cary Summers, who also served as a consultant for the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

The Green Scholars Initiative, under whom the bible curriculum has been developed, does include some distinguished scholars, but the list is heavily weighted toward evangelicalism and Calvinism. Catholic, Jewish and secular scholars are absent from the list of participants in the initiative.

Most damning of all to Mr. Green’s promise of a non-sectarian course, however, is the textbook itself, a draft copy of which was recently secured by the Freedom From Religion Foundation from an anonymous source. The textbook is based solely upon the Protestant biblical canon, and published excerpts reflect a narrative which is biased and fundamentalist. For example, a section entitled “Bible History” opens with the headline, “How Do We Know That the Bible’s Historical Narratives Are Reliable?” Another section lists the “Holy Grail” and “Noah’s Ark” as “Secrets from Biblical Times Yet to Be Discovered,” as though archeologists merely need to redouble their efforts to confirm these additional truths.

Is the anonymously leaked textbook fraudulent? I have no way of knowing. But it is certainly consistent with the religious views of the Green family. And it certainly fails to meet the requirements of the Establishment Clause.

Sources: “The Ark Encounter Q & A,” (March 14, 2011); Grelan Muse, Sr., “Hobby Lobby president to receive business honor from Bible organization,” Inside the Pew (March 1, 2013); “Hobby Lobby President Steve Green wins Templeton Biblical Values Award,” (April 20, 2013); Jon Watje, “School district considers adding Bible course,” (November 13, 2013); Norma Caplan-Bricker, “The Hobby Lobby President Is Also Building a Bible Museum for Over $70 Million,” New Republic (March 25, 2014); Michael Gryboski, “Okla. School District Approves Hobby Lobby’s President’s Bible Course,” The Christian Post (April 16, 2014); Mary O’Hara, “Oklahoma School’s ‘Hobby Lobby Bible Curriculum’ Raises Bias Concerns,” (April 19, 2014);  Hemant Mehta, The (First) 7 Problems with the Hobby Lobby Bible Curriculum,” (April 25, 2014);

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays of art are solely their decision and responsibility.


57 thoughts on “The Hobby Lobby Bible Curriculum and the Constitution”

  1. davidm2575

    While many treat religion as a private matter meant to be done in secrecy, many in our culture treat religion as a very public thing, as something that identifies who they are.

    The “god is on our side” warmongers are a substantial portion of that group (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala – 4). Can’t understand why Christians would want that secret to become public.

  2. David I sincerely doubt it would be easy, if at all possible, to get an elective course on the Koran or maybe even the Talmud. There is hatred for one faith over another in this country. (Read say Huckabee on FB and what his followers say. “Christ is the only way, the only True G-d, etc. The christian right wants this to be a theocracy. This is one way to get their foot in the door.

    I was in elementary school in Pa. in the 50’s. I doubt it ever occurred to my parents or those of the rest of the 75% of us who were Jewish that there was a way to be excused from the beginning of the school day recitation of the Bible.
    It may not be something a kid would have even mentioned specifically “What did you do today at school Carol? Well, they read from the New Testament as the way to start the day.”

    No matter what the religious, and religious right wants, absent SCOTUS being totally oblivious to the law of the land and the bill of rights, this will remain a country free of having G-d forced down our throats, or proselytizing our children in public schools.

    1. leejcaroll – I doubt you would feel any different if they read from the Jewish Scriptures every morning. Nevertheless, I do not support forced reading of religious texts at the start of the school day in public schools. It is not about forcing religion on anybody. It is about better education and not being afraid of information from various religions. That is what education is about, and if you think there are haters out there that will not allow it, then we just have to work to educate them about the value of education for everybody. Dumbing down Americans through censorship of materials categorized as “religious” is not the answer.

  3. Hobby Lobby’s public school Bible class treats ‘Moses’ magic wand’ as historical fact
    By Travis Gettys
    Wednesday, April 30, 2014

    A pair of religious liberty watchdogs urged an Oklahoma school district to drop its plans to implement a Bible-based curriculum designed by a conservative Christian business owner.

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent letters last week to the Mustang Public School District board expressing concerns about the implementation of the “Museum of the Bible” curriculum.

    The groups, which are based in Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wisc., said the course work designed by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green was taught from a sectarian perspective and would expose the district to costly, time-consuming lawsuits.

    “The courts have been clear: there is to be no proselytization in public schools,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Schools are welcome to teach religion objectively, but they’re not welcome to teach any one religion as literal truth. That’s exactly what the Mustang public schools are about to do.”

    Americans United noted that Green, who has mounted a U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, explained that the curriculum was intended to show the reliability of the Bible and to complement his planned Bible museum.

    Green has also said the class would teach the doctrine of Bible inerrancy, the groups said, which they said undermined his claims that the course would be taught from an objective standpoint.

    “The materials show a clear Christian bias, treat the Bible as historically accurate and true in all respects, and make theological claims, to name but a few problems,” said FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel.

    The attorney lists dozens of potential constitutional violations in the curriculum, although he admits there are likely more because he sent the letter before conducting a thorough examination of the materials.

    Seidel said the curriculum asks and answers the question, “What is God like?” and asks students to consider the various aspects of God, including His love, promise, justice, and presence.

    He also noted that only four translations of the Bible are used, each of them associated with Protestant sects, and treats the material as historically factual and accurate – including the questionable claim that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis and critical examination of the fictional novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

  4. It will be difficult–maybe impossible–to determine how much money some ultra-wealthy people contribute to political candidates/parties because of dark money groups.

  5. I’m glad to see someone is actually trying to improve education about the most published book in history. The anti-religious crowd seems to favor creating a curriculum of ignorance about religion and the Bible. Abington does not present any problem because that case was about States forcing Bible reading in every school. This case is about providing an elective course of education about the Bible for those who are interested.

    While many treat religion as a private matter meant to be done in secrecy, many in our culture treat religion as a very public thing, as something that identifies who they are. If the government continues to enact policies that force the religious into the closet and silence them, they will see a revolution that makes the gay rights revolution look like child’s play. The best public policy for government is one that acknowledges God, acknowledges religion, and seeks to educate everyone about all religions without favoring any particular establishment of religion. Our schools need to educate students about the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Talmud, and even the various American born religions of Mormonism, exposing students to the Mormon scriptures: the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Education is the answer, not perpetuating ignorance about the Bible and religion.

  6. Until litigation producing an injunction is completed, what will happen if they read:

    For there will be trouble then worse than there has ever been from the beginning of the world until now, and there will be nothing like it again! Indeed, if the length of this time had not been limited, no one would survive; but for the sake of those who have been chosen, its length will be limited.”

    (Message of Science & Religion – Western – 2, quoting Matt. 24:2122, CJB). The fundamentalists do not believe in climate change, which promises to fulfill the “no one would survive” aspects of those verses.

    This week a climate change report is being released which seemingly shows those verses to be more realistic than the fundies believe is real:

    Climate change has moved from distant threat to present-day danger and no American will be left unscathed, according to a landmark report due to be unveiled on Tuesday.

    The National Climate Assessment, a 1,300-page report compiled by 300 leading scientists and experts, is meant to be the definitive account of the effects of climate change on the US. It will be formally released at a White House event and is expected to drive the remaining two years of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.


  7. Bloomberg won’t come close to what the Kochs Are spending.

  8. Annie

    abortion is too good of a wedge issue for republicans to ever out right ban. i believe that from 2000 to 2006 they controlled the executive, legislative, and judicial branches and still never tried to do more than nibble around the edges of roe v wade.

  9. Paul, it is not the rich Liberals have a problem it is the policies that allow the really, really rich get to run the government, direct the courts, draft the legislation and not pay taxes to boot. Its not the rich its the really really rich and their arrogant taking of the public doll while lecturing the rest of us. It is their arrogant tax evasion while lecturing us on the need for sacrifice.

    The really, really rich and corporations should have to pay their taxes and when they get caught in tax avoidance schemes they should be tried for tax evasion like normal humans and go to jail but what happens is that they bribe, sorry, lobby Congress to get their actions made legal.

    Its not the fact that they are really really rich it is how they use their money to avoid their obligations and abuse the rest of us while all the while taking everything this country has to offer including corporate and billionaire welfare that amounts to billions and billions of dollars.

  10. This curriculum SHOULDN’T survive constitutional muster but with this SCOTUS I don’t know. Maybe if some of curriculum conflicts with Scalia’s Catholic training it will get booted but of course that isn’t the kind of analysis we want our Supreme Court Justices or any judge doing.

    These evangelical fanatics are just dying it seems to have our country look like others in which people fight and kill over whether this strain of this religion is right and destroy each other in the process. These persons who claim a belief in Christ seem to want to reenact the 30 Years War. Not only have they missed the whole point of Christ’s teachings, they have trashed the Constitution and missed a whole semester of European history which clearly lays out the hazards of forcing religion down people’s throats. Next they will be asking for an exemption from the laws against murder so that they can kill the infidels.

  11. Paul,
    You can’t wish away the John Birch raised Koch Brothers. The middle class and the poor just want an equal shot. The Koch Brothers don’t want that to happen. Bloomberg is spending millions on gun control, not forcing his religion on the rest of us.

  12. I don’t understand the limousine liberals problem with the rich. Are they jealous that they make more money than they do? A lot of liberal commentators retire very rich. Harry Reid has made buckets of money while in the Senate. Hell, he soon could have as much money as the Koch Bros and Soros combined. He spends more than Bloomberg in an election cycle. Why aren’t you up in his grille?

  13. Since none you you have taught the Bible in high school, I don’t think you have a lot to say. Any Bible class is an elective, unless you are going to a religious school. That means that NO ONE is required to take it. Although I might not have titled the chapters they way they did, I don’t see a real big problem with them. And I am agnostic.

    BTW, nobody but you care about the Koch Bros. They will be a non-issue in this next election. Bloomberg who is willing to spend $50 million is going to be an issue.

  14. Feynman, but, but, but Samantha sez the one percent want to take guns away, decimate the population, hate Tea Parters and religious people. Have the Kochs and Mr. and Mrs. Hobby Lobby turned into flaming liberals? Because they ARE part of the one percent, no?

  15. Annie,
    I would consider the Koch brothers to be more fascist than libertarian.

  16. Annie,

    Yes. But they are REALLY rich libertarians who tend to support only Republican candidates – Their Republican candidates.

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