Willamette Professor Weighs in on Curriculum Debate

In January, Professor Steven K. Green traveled to Texas to provide expertise on a contentious issue in public school education: the role of Christianity in American history classes.

A national expert on church and state issues, Green testified before the Texas State Board of Education on behalf of the Texas Freedom Network. The board was considering a new social studies curriculum that included proposals to emphasize the religious influences on the nation's founding principles.

"I fully support exposing children to the religious influences of our nation's history," said Green, who directs Willamette's Center for Religion, Law and Democracy. "However, there is a crucial pedagogical and legal difference between the academic study of our religious past and exposure of children to misleading religious truth claims, particularly if they're for the purpose of instilling religious devotion."

The new standards would dictate what Texas K-12 students learn in class and could affect textbooks used by schools nationwide. As a result, a number of news outlets have covered the issue, including The New York Times Magazine, which addressed the question of the founding fathers' religious intent for the nation in the Feb. 14, 2010, cover story.

"How Christian Were the Founders?" asked the magazine, which quoted part of Green's testimony before the Texas State Board of Education: "Green warned the board that the Supreme Court has forbidden public schools from ‘seeking to impress upon students the importance of particular religious values through the curriculum' and in the process said that the founders ‘did not draw on Mosaic law, as is mentioned in the standards.'"

Since its publication, The New York Times Magazine article has garnered much attention, becoming one of the most frequently downloaded pieces on The New York Times Web site.