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May 8, 2014

Bible curriculum part of Green evangelization push

OKLAHOMA CITY — 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 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.

That is possible, said Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University. But while a carefully constructed course about the Bible can be constitutional, it’s easy to cross a line.

“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.

Green has described an intent to teach the Bible for its moral principles and not only as a way to illuminate subjects from archaeology to zoology. While the curriculum in Mustang includes topics such as the religious influence on art, it also notes the consequences of people deciding to disobey God.

Last year, before the National Bible Association, a group that encourages the nation’s leaders to read the Bible, Green said his goals for the high school curriculum were to show that the Bible is true and that its impact, “whether (upon) our government, education, science, art, literature, family . when we apply it to our lives in all aspects of our life, that it has been good.”

Green is a member of the evangelical Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma, and believes the Bible is literally true and that he is obligated to share the gospel. His 500-plus Hobby Lobby stores are closed on Sundays, because Green believes the Sabbath is a day of rest and everyone should be able to go to church.

That faith led the company to its high-profile fight against a portion of the Affordable Care Act that requires businesses to provide certain types of birth control. The Supreme Court heard arguments in March in that case, with a decision is expected next month.

Green declined interview requests from The Associated Press. The director of the Green Scholars Initiative, Jerry Pattengale, said in an email last month that Green wasn’t connected to the curriculum, other than being on the board of the Green-backed Museum of the Bible, which provides its source material.

But last year, after corresponding with Green about the program, Mustang’s superintendent billed it to his board as a curriculum “that Hobby Lobby and its president, Steve Green is putting out.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and other groups have already received complaints from the public, given Green’s remarks about the need for greater religious influence in society.

“One of the things I see in Steve (Green) is a person who, because of how he’s used biblical principles in his own life, is going to do what he sees as a personal commandment for him, which is to spread the gospel,” said Brady Henderson, the legal director of the state ACLU.

Rick Tepker, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma Law Center, said he believes 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.”

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