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Oklahoma school district cancels Hobby Lobby-backed religious course after activist pressure

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An Oklahoma school district scuttled plans to offer an elective religion course developed by the head of the Hobby Lobby retail chain.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) said on its website on Tuesday that the Mustang Public Schools district canceled the course, “The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact.”

“The topic of a Bible course in the Mustang School District is no longer a discussion item nor is there a plan to provide such a course in the foreseeable future,” superintendent Sean McDaniel was quoted as saying.

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The district’s decision came after the foundation made a second open-records request in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United.

Hobby Lobby allegedly did not provide the district with “legal coverage” for offering the course, nor did it allow the district to review the final curriculum beforehand.

The class reportedly contained lessons saying that people should rest on the Sabbath in keeping with God’s order, and that they risk punishment for not following His orders. Records also revealed that the course described God in purely complimentary terms like “gracious and compassionate,” and “full of love.”

The district is located in the town of the same name, about five miles away from the company’s Oklahoma City headquarters. Hobby Lobby president Steve Green was part of the team developing the course curriculum.

The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Green met with Mustang school board members in April in separate meetings in a different county, hours before the board approved the class.

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“This was something that we wanted to be able to have conversation about and ask questions,” McDaniel said at the time. “If we have the media and the public coming into Hobby Lobby headquarters with us, that can just be confusing and awkward since we’re all seeing it for the first time.”

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said at the time that board members are allowed to meet in separate groups without having a quorum, but that no actions can be taken at such meetings and board members in separate groups are not allowed to trade information. Green and McDaniel were reportedly present at both meetings.

The board subsequently approved the course as an elective, with McDaniel telling the Christian Post that he was “excited” to offer it.

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But the foundation accused Green and the district of trying to conceal the nature of the course.

“Green’s involvement is much more than anyone is willing to admit, and they’ve been a bit disingenuous about it,’ FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel said after the course was approved. “They deliberately tried to keep the meetings closed to the public, which is not something you would hope to see with a public curriculum.”

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However, Religion News Service reported in July that the class had been postponed until January 2015, citing “unforeseen delays.”

Hobby Lobby and another family-owned company, Conestoga Wood Specialties, were the two firms at the center of a Supreme Court decision this past June saying that the government cannot order corporations to provide contraception coverage for their employees if doing so violated their religious beliefs.

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