AP’s one-sided report on teaching Bible in public schools

Gotcha!

That’s the distinct tone of an Associated Press story out this week (just three weeks behind Religion News Service) on a new Bible elective approved by an Oklahoma school district.

But does this AP story, filled with much weeping and gnashing of teeth, deliver the actual journalistic goods?

Why don’t you help me decide, inquiring-mind GetReligion readers?

Let’s start at the top:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Steve Green’s faith led him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he’s argued the nation’s new health care law and its requirement that his business provide certain types of birth control to employees violates his religious freedoms.

At the same time, the president of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores is working to add the Bible to the curriculum of public high schools nationwide. His purpose, stated more clearly at some times than at others, is for students to learn its text and put America on a righteous course.

“This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” Green said last year to the National Bible Association, announcing his plan for the high school course. “There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it, and if we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”

Green has established a beachhead in his home state of Oklahoma, where the public Mustang School District in suburban Oklahoma City will begin teaching a class about the Bible as an elective beginning this fall. The goal is to place the Bible course in thousands of schools by 2017.

Green told the Mustang school board last fall that the one-year trial of the Bible curriculum developed by the Green Scholars Initiative wasn’t intended to proselytize or “go down denominational, religious-type roads,” and persuaded the board that the plan would pass any constitutional challenges.

Later in the story, readers learn that Green declined an interview with the AP. So readers are left with the wire service’s interpretation of what he has said in the past and what his motivations/intentions are. (For the record, I don’t think Green’s refusal to talk helps his side.)

Keep reading, and the AP quotes three “experts” — all concerned about the Bible elective approved by the suburban school district. First up and worried about a constitutional line possibly being crossed is Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University:

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A Hobby Lobby family profile that gets religion

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Before my teenage daughter left on our church’s annual spring break mission trip last week, we made one of our regular visits to Hobby Lobby. Kendall loves to knit and wanted to make sure she had plenty of yarn for the all-day van ride to the U.S.-Mexico border.

As regular customers of the arts and crafts retailer — which is based in Oklahoma City, where we live — my family has followed the national chain’s legal fight over Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

Much of the media coverage is, of course, filled with complicated legalese and robotic talking heads on the right and left.

Enter Religion News Service senior national correspondent Cathy Lynn Grossman with a refreshing profile of Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, whose stores are closed on Sundays to “allow employees time for family and worship”:

(RNS) Once Steve Green sets his path, there’s no turning back.

Not when he and his high school girlfriend, Jackie, totaled their cars playing chicken. “No one turned off,” he said, recalling how he aimed right at her and she just kept coming. A year later, she married him.

Not when he saw no point in college, going directly into his family’s Hobby Lobby craft store business. Green, now 50, rose up from assembling picture frames for “bubble gum money” at age 7 through every job, including cleaning toilets, to president of the $3.3 billion national chain, one of the nation’s largest private companies.

And certainly not now when, he says, the U.S. government is challenging his unshakeable Christian faith and his religious liberty.

Here’s what I like about Grossman’s 1,500-word profile of Green: It puts a real human face on a newsmaker at the center of a case headed to the Supreme Court.

At the same time, it cuts through the noise and rhetoric and describes the legal fight in terms that ordinary readers can understand:

Next week (March 25) Green’s path leads straight up the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to witness oral arguments in the case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

That’s Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The department included all Food and Drug Administration-approved forms of contraception among services required for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby has provided insurance with contraception coverage for years, paying for 16 of the FDA-approved forms, from barrier methods to pills that prevent fertilization. Not covered: intrauterine devices and morning-after pills such as Plan B. Those, the FDA acknowledges, could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.

Blocking implantation would “terminate life” says Green. “We won’t pay for any abortive products. We believe life begins at conception.”

RNS sprinkles personal anecdotes about Green throughout the piece and deftly steps back and allows him to describe his faith — and how it motivates Hobby Lobby’s stand on Obamacare — in his own words:

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