Thomas Terry  /  AP
Dr. Mark Chancey, professor of biblical studies at Southern Methodist University, center, speaks Monday in Austin, Texas, about a report he wrote for Texas Freedom Network examining a Bible study course marketed to public schools. Kathy Miller, the network's president, at left, joined Chancey in denouncing the course.
updated 8/1/2005 9:47:52 PM ET 2005-08-02T01:47:52

A religious watchdog group complained Monday that a Bible study course taught in hundreds of public schools in Texas and across the country promotes a fundamentalist Christian view and violates religious freedom.

The Texas Freedom Network, which includes clergy of several faiths, also said the course offered by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools is full of errors and dubious research.

The producers of the Bible class dismissed the Texas Freedom Network as a “far left” organization trying to suppress study of a historical text.

The National Council on Bible Curriculum Web site says its elective course is offered in high schools and junior highs by more than 300 school districts in 37 states.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said her group looked at the course after the Odessa school board voted in April to offer the class. It asked Southern Methodist University biblical scholar Mark A. Chancey to review the curriculum.

Chancey’s review found that the course characterizes the Bible as inspired by God, that discussions of science are based on the biblical account of creation, that Jesus is referred to as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, and that archaeological findings are erroneously used to support claims of the Bible’s historical accuracy.

He said the course also suggests the Bible, instead of the Constitution, be considered the nation’s founding document.

“No public school student should have to have a particular religious belief forced upon them,” the Rev. Ragan Courtney, pastor of The Sanctuary, a Baptist congregation in Austin, said at a news conference held by Texas Freedom Network.

Elizabeth Ridenour, president of the Bible class group, accused the Texas Freedom Network of censorship.

“They are actually quite fearful of academic freedom, and of local schools deciding for themselves what elective courses to offer their citizens,” she said in a statement.

According to the Texas Freedom Network, 52 Texas school districts offer the class. In Odessa, more than 6,000 people signed a petition in support before it was approved in April.

Although representatives of the Bible council have attended school board meetings in Odessa, superintendent Wendell Sollis said course materials have not yet been selected.

Miller said the Texas Freedom Network supports study of the Bible as a significant historical text, but not in a way that amounts to religious indoctrination.

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