Chino Valley High Schools to Teach “Bible as Literature”

August 10, 2010

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Last week the Chino Valley School District's Board of Education approved an elective Bible class for students in its four public high schools. 

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports that the school board approved the class after a lobbying campaign by a fundamentalist mega-church called Calvary Chapel Chino Hills.  Members of the church packed the board meeting to demand approval of the course.  Fred Youngblood, president of the board, said he was grateful for the positive turnout. "The support versus the non-support was 95 percent." Calvary Chapel members have pledged to pay for all of the textbooks and have already collected $15,000 to be turned over to the district.  "The funds have been donated," Youngblood said. "The training is going to happen for the teachers. We have four high schools, and [the Bible class] is authorized for [all] four."

The Bible classes will use the textbook " The Bible and its Influence ," written by Religious Right activist Chuck Stetson.

Some supporters of the Bible class tried to portray the elective class as a proper academic course that lacks any hint of evangelism, but their real aim kept showing through.  Superintendent Wayne Joseph says school officials will make sure "we don't have teachers who are proselytizing religion, but conversely we don't have teachers who are debunking or debasing the Bible. . . . If the teachers teach this correctly, there will be no problem."

But school board members and Calvary Chapel members have made their aims apparent.   Calvary Chapel member Kim Yergensen, for example, said she supports the course because "The Bible is where we get our laws and where we get our difference between good and evil. Children need to be taught that at an early age and on through life."  Jack Hibbs, pastor of Calvary Chapel, said the course's emphasis would be literary and historical. But he also added, "Wherever the Bible is and wherever people are introduced to the concept of God, morality increases, the value of life increases, women's rights are elevated and there's been a historical plus regarding the doctrines, the teachings and the influence of the Bible wherever it has been introduced. We're very excited."

School Board Vice President James Na further added , "[The Bible] will bring greatness in students' lives. I would like to thank God and Christian parents who are going to support this class."

U.S. courts have never held the teaching of academic classes on the Bible to be unconstitutional.  Church-state separation advocates should monitor this situation closely, however.  In light of the surrounding social environment in Chino Valley, it appears likely that the class could be implemented in ways that would promote religious doctrine.  Moreover, if the school board introduced the class with the goal of furthering religion, its actions would fall afoul of the First Amendment.