AP's one-sided report on teaching Bible in public schools


That's the distinct tone of an Associated Press story out this week (just three weeks behind Religion News Service) on a new Bible elective approved by an Oklahoma school district.

But does this AP story, filled with much weeping and gnashing of teeth, deliver the actual journalistic goods?

Why don't you help me decide, inquiring-mind GetReligion readers?

Let's start at the top:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Steve Green's faith led him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he's argued the nation's new health care law and its requirement that his business provide certain types of birth control to employees violates his religious freedoms.

At the same time, the president of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores is working to add the Bible to the curriculum of public high schools nationwide. His purpose, stated more clearly at some times than at others, is for students to learn its text and put America on a righteous course.

"This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught," Green said last year to the National Bible Association, announcing his plan for the high school course. "There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it, and if we don't know it, our future is going to be very scary."

Green has established a beachhead in his home state of Oklahoma, where the public Mustang School District in suburban Oklahoma City will begin teaching a class about the Bible as an elective beginning this fall. The goal is to place the Bible course in thousands of schools by 2017.

Green told the Mustang school board last fall that the one-year trial of the Bible curriculum developed by the Green Scholars Initiative wasn't intended to proselytize or "go down denominational, religious-type roads," and persuaded the board that the plan would pass any constitutional challenges.

Later in the story, readers learn that Green declined an interview with the AP. So readers are left with the wire service's interpretation of what he has said in the past and what his motivations/intentions are. (For the record, I don't think Green's refusal to talk helps his side.)

Keep reading, and the AP quotes three "experts" — all concerned about the Bible elective approved by the suburban school district. First up and worried about a constitutional line possibly being crossed is Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University:

"Sometimes it happens very intentionally where people and groups try to send in these courses as Trojan horses to try to get public schools to promote their religion over all other others," Chancey said.

Also quoted about his concerns is Brady Henderson of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, along with "other (unnamed) groups," already has "received (unspecified) complaints from the public," according to the AP. (The words inside the parenthesis are mine.)

And Rich Tepker of the University of Oklahoma Law Center suggests that "the curriculum crosses a line, given Green's previous statements":

"When he does this current thing, when he gets the school board to act as a sovereign entity from the government, it's not free speech, its theocracy and that's unconstitutional," he said. "He has a political agenda that amounts to civil disobedience against the First Amendment."

Cue the dramatic music. It's obvious something sinister is happening in my home state. Otherwise, all the "experts" wouldn't be so concerned, right?

But as long as we're talking about journalism, are there any missing voices in this story? Any folks who deserve an opportunity to respond to the criticism?

For example, in a story about a school district approving a curriculum, might the AP consider quoting a school official? Perhaps the superintendent? Perhaps the school district's attorney? Hey, to get really wild and crazy, might the AP provide some specific details about the nature of the curriculum actually approved — as opposed to Green's statements last year?

Moreover, since the AP indicates that the public already is complaining, might the AP quote some actual parents whose children attend schools in Mustang? Are they upset about the curriculum? Or are they excited about students having an opportunity to choose a Bible elective?

Finally, how about a little context on the fact that Bible electives already are taught — legally — in hundreds of public schools nationwide? How about providing some insight on best — and worst — practices for such courses from the foremost authority (my opinion) on the subject, Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project? Why not provide some specific information on what's wrong (in the experts' analysis) with the Mustang curriculum, as opposed to vague concerns about what Green has said?

Back to my original question: Does this story deliver the goods? You tell me.


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