The Bible connection 

Studying the Bible in two school districts, under one superintendent.



Only one public school in Arkansas teaches a Bible class for credit and the superintendent in that district was once on the losing end of a lawsuit that ended a Bible class in another Arkansas school. Apparently, he doesn’t like to talk about it.

Paul Human is the superintendent of the Texarkana School District. Arkansas High in the Texarkana District offers the only state-approved Bible course at an Arkansas public school, according to the state Education Department. State approval is required for any course that is taught for credit toward graduation. Julie Johnson Thompson, director of communications for the department, said there may be Arkansas schools that are teaching a Bible class without credit, although she didn’t know of any.

The Gentry School Board recently rejected a Bible course proposed for Gentry High School next fall. That course would not have been offered for credit, apparently, and Education Department approval had not been sought. The school board turned down the course anyway, after Superintendent Randy Barnett said he believed the course could not be taught in an impartial manner.

The course was designed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a controversial group based in North Carolina. The NCBCPS course has been adopted by some schools, disapproved by others, and been the subject of lawsuits, some successful, alleging that teaching the course violates the constitutional provision for separation of church and state.

Even a course that is not taught for credit toward graduation can be stopped through litigation. That happened in the Gravette School District in 1989, while Human was the superintendent. Federal Judge Morris S. Arnold ordered an end to Bible classes that had been taught in the Gravette schools for years.

(Human did not return called from the Times.)

Thompson said she understood that the course offered in Texarkana was not the same NCBCPS course that was turned down in Gentry. To be approved by the Education Department, a Bible class must be non-doctrinal in nature, focusing instead on literature and history, she said.

People for the American Way, a liberal group that favors separation of church and state, says of NCBCPS that “the real intent of the organization is to promote a religious, primarily Christian, doctrine. In addition, its manual refers to the separation of church and state as a ‘myth.’ ” The NCBCPS board of directors and advisory board have included Religious Right leaders such as televangelist D. James Kennedy.

The Texarkana School District recently won tentative approval from the state Board of Education for a charter school to be operated by the district and the Mount Grove Baptist Church. Aware of the church-state issue, the board said final approval would await an acceptable plan for allocating costs between the district and the church.

Charter schools are public schools that are exempted from some laws and regulations governing other public schools. To remain in operation, charter schools must meet certain performance goals.

At Gravette, elementary school children attended Bible classes during regular school hours in school buildings. The classes were taught by volunteers who were not employees of the school district and who supposedly were not acting on behalf of any church. No credit was given for the classes and attendance was voluntary. Parents who didn’t want their children to attend the Bible classes could arrange for their children to spend the time in the library or in some other instructional situation. Ninety-six percent of the children attended the Bible classes. Parents of one of the Gravette children filed suit alleging that the classes violated the First Amendment.

Arnold ruled for the plaintiffs. Quoting from his opinion:

“Even if defendants’ program has a primarily secular purpose, it is still unconstitutional if the principal effect of the courses is either to advance or inhibit religion. The Gravette Bible classes are plainly not wholly secular in character. Nevertheless, defendants argue that even if the Bible study program has religious elements, its primary effects are the secular ones of ‘building character, forming moral values, and developing a truly educated person.’

“Even on the relatively undeveloped state of the record before the court, it is quite clear that the course in question is predominantly religious and devotional in nature. Many of the songs taught in the course are religious, although some contain moral messages as well. For instance, the song ‘Countdown’ discusses Jesus’s Second Coming to Earth, the song ‘My B-I-B-L-E’ is self-explanatory, and ‘This Old Saint’ unapologetically states Christian dogma. The song ‘L.O.V.E.’ speaks of Jesus’s love for mankind, exemplified by his crucifixion. Even if nothing else was taught, these songs alone would render defendants’ program constitutionally infirm. But there is more. In classroom discussion … one of the teachers emphasized that ‘Jesus is our gateway to Heaven. He laid down his life for us so that we could get to Heaven. He is our shepherd and he wants us all to be one big flock of sheep.’ These teachings would seem to have no secular effect whatsoever.”


From the ArkTimes store

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Doug Smith

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

  • University of Texas removes Confederate statues

    Confederate statuary was removed overnight from a prominent spot on the University of Texas campus because they symbolize white supremacy and neo-Nazism, the university president said.
    • Aug 21, 2017
  • Eclipse day. Woodstock?

    I was amused by the excitement of a NASA scientist over today's eclipse, as reported by CNN.
    • Aug 21, 2017
  • Open line and Civil War update

    More Confederacy defenders were on hand in Bentonville against imagined threats to a one of hte Confederate statues put up long after the Civil War to spin a narrative about the noble Lost Cause.
    • Aug 20, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Asa on pre-K

    • Aug 17, 2016

Most Shared

  • Take yourself there: Mavis Staples coming to LR for Central High performance

    Gospel and R&B singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, who has been inspiring fans with gospel-inflected freedom songs like "I'll Take You There" and "March Up Freedom's Highway" and the poignant "Oh What a Feeling" will come to Little Rock for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High.
  • Klan's president

    Everything that Donald Trump does — make that everything that he says — is calculated to thrill his lustiest disciples. But he is discovering that what was brilliant for a politician is a miscalculation for a president, because it deepens the chasm between him and most Americans.
  • On Charlottesville

    Watching the Charlottesville spectacle from halfway across the country, I confess that my first instinct was to raillery. Vanilla ISIS, somebody called this mob of would-be Nazis. A parade of love-deprived nerds marching bravely out of their parents' basements carrying tiki torches from Home Depot.
  • Lynchings hidden in the history of the Hot Springs Confederate monument

    Hot Springs twice erupted into the kind of violence that has its roots in the issues left unresolved by the Civil War, and both times, it happened right where that monument to Confederate soldiers stands today.

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

  • Youth lockups to go to contractors

    After takeover, governor cites improvements in facilities, but wants private companies to run them again.By Benjamin Hardy Arkansas Nonprofit News Network
    • Aug 17, 2017
  • Frank Broyles dies

    A giant in University of Arkansas athletics remembered. By Beau Wilcox
    • Aug 17, 2017
  • Not all black and white

    Butler Center's photography show provides context to Japanese American internment.By Leslie Newell Peacock
    • Aug 10, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments


© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation