FRANKENMUTH, Mich. — After a year of controversy, Frankenmuth Public Schools officials have decided against adding a religious group's Bible class as an elective high school course.
After the recommendation of superintendent Michael Murphy, school board members agreed yesterday that the "Bible As Literature and History" class, based on materials from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, would not be offered at
Frankenmuth High School.
Murphy said the proposed class was too close to religion and too far from history, The Saginaw News reported.
"It appears to be more like the Bible 'as' history and literature," he said. "It goes beyond talking about religion and becomes faith-based."
Murphy also said the class was not academically rigorous enough and said current classes in English, art and history, already included studies on how the Bible affects American society.
Murphy said the rejection was not based on the threat of lawsuits, and school board members said the decision did not rule out future consideration of similar classes, WSGW-AM in Saginaw reported.
Gary Pickelman was the only dissenting board member.
"Why is it that students can't read the Bible in school when prisoners can in prison?" he asked. "Why do I have to swear on a Bible in court, when the Ten Commandments cannot be displayed on federal grounds? Our society is messed up."
Courts have ruled that students can read the Bible in school on their own and in fulfilling other academic assignments.
High school senior Paul Gehm also criticized the decision.
"The school board is making a huge mistake in denying students the right to learn from a piece of literature that was used by our founding fathers to start this country," said Gehm, 18, of Saginaw County's Birch Run Township. "This is about historical facts, not
one religion over another."
The proposed class had raised the issue of whether the curriculum would have conformed to School District v. Schempp, a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision barring public schools from indoctrinating children in
religion but upholding the right to teach about religion.
The dispute in Frankenmuth, about 75 miles north of Detroit, was the latest skirmish in a nationwide battle between religious conservatives and church-state separationists over classes based on materials from the Greensboro, N.C.-based council.
The council says its curriculum conforms to the law. But People for the American Way and the American Civil Liberties union say its materials illegally promote religion.
The curriculum, based on the King James Bible, includes topics ranging from "Periods of Hebrew History in the Old Testament" to "The Parables of Jesus — Literary Genre."
One year ago, hundreds of Frankenmuth parents and students asked the school board to offer a Bible course based on materials from the National Council.
The dispute came to a boil at a Jan. 13, 2004 school board hearing, when parents Marcia and Robert Stoddard submitted petitions signed by about 1,200 parents and students asking for the course.
About 100 people filled a middle school cafeteria, with shouts breaking out at one point between an avowed atheist and a course supporter.
The Frankenmuth district in Michigan's rural Thumb has about 1,200 students, 500 of them at the high school.