Curricular Controversy: Hobby Lobby President Proposes Bible Elective in Okla. Public School

The proposal is based on curriculum designed by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, infamous for his ongoing legal battle against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

An Oklahoma school district is debating a proposal that would create a Bible class for Mustang High School students.

School officials stress that the class would be an elective, but even so, there are clear reasons to be concerned. The proposal is based on curriculum designed by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, infamous for his ongoing legal battle against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.  

As reported by KOCO 5 News, the curriculum focuses exclusively on the Bible. Students would take intros to the Old and New Testament and sit through units that purportedly examine the Bible’s influence on society. Green introduced the curriculum to the school board at the invitation of its superintendent, Sean McDaniel.

Green promised McDaniel and the rest of the board that the class would be taught from a historical, nonsectarian perspective. If that’s really the case, the class could meet constitutional standards, but his past and his connections to fringe figures on the Religious Right should give officials pause.

A compulsive collector of Biblical artifacts, Green has dedicated much of his personal fortune to the promotion of Bible education. And it’s evident that he prefers a sectarian approach to the subject. In 2012, he decried the Bible’s declining influence in an interview with The Christian Post.

“In some cases in America, I believe the Bible has become commonplace and it's not necessarily read and known as it has been in the past. I think we probably have the most ignorant population we’ve ever had because we don’t teach it in our schools like we used to,” he said.

Green also partners with our favorite Christian “historian,” David Barton, to run full-page newspaper ads promoting the exhausted myth that America is a “Christian nation.” This is disturbing on its own, but Green also has strong ties to Bill Gothard, the leader of an extremist Christian fundamentalist sect roiling with allegations of child abuse.

Gothard’s religious empire includes a homeschool curriculum popular with fundamentalist families, and a nationwide network of training centers and youth programs that exclusively rely on Gothard’s teachings.

Among his more controversial beliefs: Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character simply by staring into their eyes, that disease has spiritual causes and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books provide detailed instructions on how women ought to stand, in addition to diagrams of the appropriate length of men’s pants and illustrations of suitable female hairstyles.

In 2002, Green, acting through his family trust, purchased and then leased a vacant college campus to Gothard’s ministry. A year later, Green, this time acting through Hobby Lobby itself, purchased a shuttered hospital in Little Rock, Ark., and donated it to Gothard for the purposes of building a local training center.

These weren’t mere business transactions, either. The website of one of Gothard’s many ministries features video of Steve Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others.” And in a review of Gothard’s book, The Amazing Way, David Green, father of Steve Green and founder of Hobby Lobby, wrote that, “Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business. It is as we take those lessons from God s Word that Bill clearly articulates that we live the full life that God intends.”

Objective courses about the Bible are permissible in public schools, but Sunday School lessons are a different matter entirely. Green’s past statements and Religious Right connections indicate that he’s actually trying to promote a specific perspective on the Bible: his own.

The Mustang school board needs to investigate Green’s real motivations for designing and proposing a Bible elective for its high school students. His claims of non-sectarianism are strongly at odds with his deep roots in fringe fundamentalism. By implementing Green’s curriculum, Mustang officials likely risk an expensive legal challenge—and the well-being of its students.