In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby in its fight with the government over the contraceptive mandate, critics in the media and atheist groups have zeroed in on the Green family’s plans for a Bible museum and public school curriculum.
Some cheered Wednesday when editors at the nonprofit Museum of the Bible announced that a Bible elective in an Oklahoma school district will be postponed until at least January. Steve Green, Hobby Lobby’s president, has been a proponent of teaching the Bible in public high schools nationwide.
“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.”
The Green family has been using its $3 billion-plus net worth since 2009 to obtain biblical manuscripts and artifacts for a planned museum. The Museum of the Bible now has 40,000 items, the world’s largest private collection. Its exhibits have traveled around the United States and Israel. But the Greens’ want a permanent museum in Washington, D.C., and hope to roll out a government-approved Bible course in schools by 2017.
The public Mustang School District near Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma headquarters was set to beta-test part of the curriculum this fall. But Jerry Pattengale, editor for the four-year course, cited “unforeseen delays” for pushing the launch back a semester. It’s not clear whether the postponement came from increased publicity—and criticism—following the Supreme Court ruling.
More than 200 pages of the curriculum’s first year course have been made public. Atheist groups claim it’s unconstitutional. Some of the criticisms include leading questions like, “How do we know the Bible is historically reliable?” rather than, “Is the Bible historically reliable?” Other accusations seem to equate the term “reliable historical document” with promoting biblical inerrancy.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that Bible courses can be “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation decries the Greens’ efforts, implicitly arguing that only non-believers can be objective.
Pattengale has acknowledged some of the course’s criticisms, and editors have worked to correct some “overreaching.” The museum board also changed its mission statement from “to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible” to a less-pointed “to invite people to engage with the Bible.”
City officials in Washington, D.C., are likely to approve the final museum design by the end of the month, The New York Times reports. Two blocks from the national mall, it will replace the Washington Design Center, an eight-story structure from the 1920s the public is ready to see renovated. The Green family bought the building in 2012 for $50 million. Final renovations and the artifact collections could put the museum’s total price tag at $800 million.