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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Winter 2008
Vol. 35 No. 1


“Complete Victory is Our Objective”:
The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools1

Mark A. Chancey

“It’s coming back … and it’s our constitutional right!” So declares the homepage of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a Christian Right organization that urges high schools across the United States to teach elective Bible courses based on its curriculum. The group views its course as a way of bringing the Bible back to its rightful place at the center of American education and of affirming the religious freedom protected by the Constitution. The course is actually more than that: it is also a way of advancing a larger agenda of increasing the role of certain forms of conservative Protestantism in public and governmental life. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (hereafter, the National Council or the NCBCPS) claims to have enjoyed considerable success thus far, with over 221,000 students taking its course. Though this number may be inflated, it is clear nonetheless that the organization’s influence and visibility are growing; Georgia’s 2006 law encouraging school districts to offer Bible courses incorporated language from National Council promotional materials, as did unsuccessful Tennessee bills.2 Demonstrations of the problematic nature of its curriculum have not diminished its stature within the Christian Right. In fact, the group has become a cause célèbre to some, a status only heightened by the filing of a lawsuit challenging the NCBCPS-based course in Ector County (Odessa), Texas. In that case, the lawsuit was dismissed when the school district agreed to drop the NCBCPS curriculum.3

Though a remarkable amount has been written about the Christian Right and public education, more attention has gone to issues such as sex education, prayer in schools, student religious expression, and evolution4 than to the Christian Right’s efforts to “return the Bible to public schools.”5 Similarly, detailed considerations of the myriads of small groups making up the Christian Right are less abundant than studies of the movement as a whole.6 This article helps to fill both of these lacunae by providing a profile of the National Council, which in its composition, goals, tactics, and rhetorical strategies provides an excellent example of a small but significant single-issue Christian Right organization.7 In particular, this study draws attention to the council’s motivating ideology of Christian Americanism, the belief that the United States was founded to be a distinctively Christian (understood primarily as fundamentalist Protestant) nation and should return to its roots.8 This ideology itself is not new, but the strategy of promoting it through a sustained, nation-wide push for Bible courses is. This article also considers central claims in the National Council’s marketing, claims that are effective despite being questionable.

The Membership and Allies of the NCBCPS

Citing the National Council as a prime example, Catherine A. Lugg has characterized the Christian Right as a “cultivated collection of interest groups” that cooperate to achieve their ends.9 Her discussion focused on linkages between organizations reflected in a 1998 controversy in Lee County (Fort Myers), Florida: the school board, influenced by the Christian Coalition, adopted the National Council curriculum and was defended in court by an American Center for Law and Justice lawyer. A more detailed examination of the council’s membership further demonstrates the utility of Lugg’s insight.

The National Council was founded in 1993 in Greensboro, North Carolina by Elizabeth Ridenour, who serves as its president. Ridenour has been a paralegal and a real estate broker; her online biography mentions no background in education or biblical studies.10 The group’s date of establishment fits it squarely within what has been called the “second coming” of the Christian Right, after what some observers had regarded as its temporary decline in the late 1980s.11 In the past, its Web site identified its co-sponsors as the American Family Association (AFA) and the now defunct Center for Reclaiming America.

The council consists of a small Board of Directors and a larger Advisory Board (currently seven and forty-eight members, respectively).12 Its members include well-known fundamentalist pastors13 and evangelists,14 heads and officials of conservative religious and political advocacy groups,15 Christian Right media figures,16 celebrities,17 lawyers, and legislators. As discussed below, academics are sparse. Though names frequently are added or removed from the membership roster, its core remains constant.

 

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