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Charter school's use of Bible ignites public firestorm

Posted By Drew Zahn On 08/01/2009 @ 10:40 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled

A new charter school planning to open this fall in Idaho has come under fire since it publicly announced one of the textbooks students will be using is the Bible.

Unlike a typical public school, the Nampa Classical Academy has the freedom under Idaho’s Public Charter School Commission to develop its own curriculum. Students will be taught, for example, Latin and Western civilization, but it’s the school’s choice to use the Bible as a historical and literary text that has ignited a public firestorm.

At a meeting of the Public Charter School Commission, parents stood and argued for and against allowing the Bible to be used in the school.

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to launch an investigation.

“Our main concern is the separation of church and state and that the state is not funding or endorsing a specific religion,” Monica Hopkins, director of the ACLU of Idaho told the Idaho Press-Tribune.

The Public Charter School Commission has directed staff to review the legality of using the Bible in charter schools.

Even Idaho’s Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Swartz, according to the Press-Tribune, has raised concerns that the Bible – even if it used in a purely secular manner – may not be allowed in the classroom under the Idaho Constitution.

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Academy founder Isaac Moffett, however, has repeatedly argued that the Bible will be used only as one of many religious texts – including the Quran and the writings of Confucius – to instruct students in history and literature and that there is no plan to indoctrinate children in any religious faith.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has held in many cases that public schools may teach about religion, including the Bible or other Scripture,” Moffett told the Press-Tribune. “The Court has also held that public schools may use the Bible in the study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion or the like.”

Furthermore, Moffett has said, the Commission stepping in to censor use of the Bible would violate the intent of creating charter schools in the first place.

“One of the aspects of a charter school is to be autonomous and make the decisions at the local level, such as the curriculum they use,” Moffett said. “If a charter school cannot have its own curriculum, why have a charter school?”

Under Idaho’s public charter school system, more than 30 of the schools have been created by teachers, parents and community members across the state, with a total enrollment of about 10,000 students.

Planned to open later this month with 557 students, the Nampa Classical Academy would be the third-largest charter school in the state.

“My philosophy did not match anything in traditional education today,” Moffett told the Associated Press.

He further told the Press-Tribune that the school will emphasize core values – namely character, charity, civility, destiny, discipline, excellence, industry, integrity, service, loyalty, originality and patriotism.

“I’ve had people say they’re Christian values,” Moffett said. “They’re not, they’re Western values.”

Bryan Fischer, the executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, praises Moffett’s attempt to restore the Bible as a historically significant text to education.

“If you think of the great works of literature that have been produced, particularly in Western civilization since the dawn of Christianity, immense percentages of those [works] have been influenced and driven by biblical concepts and themes,” Fischer told OneNewsNow. “So we are impoverishing our students by not exposing them to the themes of Scripture. So what … this public charter school is intending to do in Idaho is exactly the right thing. They’re trying to plug that vacuum that’s existed in the American educational system when it comes to the literature of the Bible.”

Michelle Hamilton, whose Don’t Get Me Started! blog is hosted by the Press-Tribune, has called for the public and the press to clearly differentiate between a school that “teaches the Bible” and the Academy, which will simply be using the Bible as a text for historical and literary instruction.

“They have clearly stated over and over they will in no way be using the Bible to teach doctrine, and that it will simply be used as a reference text,” Hamilton writes. “It saddens me that the simple mention of the Bible, and people go crazy.”

Moffett told the Associated Press that students at the Academy will read from a New International Version Bible that includes footnotes denoting cultural context and archaeological discoveries. When studying literature, he said, they will read from the King James Version.

Bill Goesling, chairman of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, however, told the Associated Press that the Bible wasn’t discussed when the academy was approved last year.

“I don’t remember it coming up. Had it been known, I think we would have spent a little bit more time on it,” Goesling said. “If it’s being used as a whole class, and it becomes a Bible study, than we are going to have a problem.”

 



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