Reporter Claire Cardona of The Dallas Morning News has covered the research of SMU religious studies expert Mark A. Chancey. A new report by Chancey, “Reading, Writing & Religion II,” found that most of the 60 public school districts in Texas that offer Bible study courses aren’t meeting a 2007 state law mandating that the courses be fair as well as academically and legally sound.

Chancey prepared the report for the Austin-based education watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. His study uncovered bias, factual errors and insufficient curriculum standards in Texas public school Bible courses. An SMU Religious Studies professor, Chancey recommends the Texas State Board of Education develop Bible course curriculum standards and the Texas Education Agency be allowed funds for a teacher training program.

“As a biblical scholar and especially as a parent, I want our state’s public schools to take the study of the Bible’s influence as seriously as they do the study of science or history,” Chancey told The Dallas Morning News. “Academically, many of these classes lack rigor and substance, and some seem less interested in cultivating religious literacy than in promoting religious beliefs. Their approach puts their school districts in legal jeopardy and their taxpayers in financial jeopardy.”

Chancey, a professor in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has devoted considerable attention to the constitutional, political and academic issues raised by religion courses in public schools.

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Claire Cardona
Dallas Morning News

Update at 4:55 p.m.: Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said the agency did not receive funding to implement professional development when the bill first passed, but the course has been developed and is undergoing review now.

Original item at 1:50 p.m.: AUSTIN — A report from the Texas Freedom Network claims the failure to implement a 2007 law that included guidelines to improve the quality of Bible study courses has resulted in factual errors and “blatant religious bias” in the courses.

The Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit religious liberties and education watchdog based in Austin, contracted Southern Methodist University professor Mark Chancey to write the report, entitled “Reading, Writing & Religion II.” The report details findings gathered from Texas school district responses to public information requests.

The 2007 law established guidelines for public schools courses about the influence of the Bible in history and literature, however, school districts — 57 of which taught Bible courses in 2011-12 up from 25 in 2005-06 — are not required to offer Bible courses and many do not train the teachers who do, according to the report.

“If everybody is allowed to ignore those guidelines, they have no teeth,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. “And if the state isn’t going to enforce its own guidelines and fund even basic teacher training, maybe we should leave instruction abut the Bible to religious congregations who will treat it with the respect it deserves.”

Three Dallas school districts — Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Lovejoy ISD and Plano ISD — offered the most successful courses according to the report. Duncanville ISD and Prosper ISD made it to the list of the most problematic courses.

The report finds that without the legislative guidelines, courses have weak foundations, sectarian bias favoring conservative Protestantism, and problematic treatment of Judaism.

The report commends Plano ISD for doing an exercise on poems and paintings that refer to the story of Adam and Eve and demonstrate how biblical imagery influenced western literature and art, and Lovejoy ISD that asks students to analyze differences in creation stories with those from religions other than Judaism and Christianity.

The report states that these assignments require analytical skills, whereas in the Brownsville area’s Port Isabel ISD students spend two days watching the documentary Ancient Aliens that presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”

Duncanville ISD’s social studies “Bible Survey” course features the 2003 video The Messiah: Prophecy Fulfilled, which, according to the report tells viewers to “GET READY FOR A POWERFUL AND CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!”

Another finding Chancey reports is of “pseudo-scholarship” which “reflects ideological biases such as the belief in an America founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles.”

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