Oklahoma City • The president of a crafts store chain who says the federal government has no business ordering him which health care options to offer his employees has no problem telling local governments what they should be teaching in their schools.
Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, has persuaded the Mustang School District in suburban Oklahoma City to incorporate the Bible into its curriculum as an elective, beginning this fall. His purpose, sometimes more clearly stated than others, is for students to learn the 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, a member of the evangelical Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma, believes the Bible is literally true and that he is obligated to share the gospel.
The 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. The company has also led a high-profile fight against a portion of the nation’s new health care law to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying a requirement that it provide certain types of birth control to employees violates their personal religious freedom. The Supreme Court heard arguments in March and a decision is expected next month.
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.
But in front of a different audience, it’s clear the intent is to teach the Bible for its moral principles, not an aid to illuminate subjects from archaeology to zoology, as the course was billed. While the curriculum includes topics such as the religious influence on art, it also notes the consequences when people disobey God.
The director of the Green Scholars Initiative, Jerry Pattengale, told The Associated Press by 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 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."
Green declined interview requests from The Associated Press. Pattengale said the goal is to place the Bible course in thousands of schools by 2017.
Last year, before the National Bible Association, a group that encourages the nation’s leaders to read the Bible, Green said his goals for a 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."
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, but has not sued.
"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.
Separately, in an April 23 letter to the Mustang school board, Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote that Green has publicly stated that the class will teach the doctrine of Bible inerrancy, which undermines his claim that it will be taught from an objective standpoint.
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."
And a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University said that while a carefully constructed Bible course can be constitutional, it’s easy to cross a line when its backer has stated his agenda.
"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," professor Mark Chancey said.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.