Atheist Group Claims Religious Bias in Charter School Run by Republican Representative

An atheist organization claims there's a "significant religious bias" in a Queen Creek charter school run by Republican state Representative Eddie Farnsworth.

The American Humanist Association's legal team sent a letter on behalf of a family to Farnsworth and the Benjamin Franklin Charter School, asking that the seemingly religion-heavy curriculum of a seventh-grade English class be revised.

"Every single quarter there is a heavy religious element," American Humanist Association legal director David Niose tells New Times. "We have a consistent effort here to keep religion in the curriculum all through the school year, in a very heavy way."

See also: -School Choice in AZ Takes New Meaning If Your Child Has a Disability -Charter Schools Often Ignore Latino Students and English-Language Learners

The syllabus includes non-religious texts, but also includes the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as the Christian-themed book The Pilgrim's Progress, and another book by overtly Christian author C.S. Lewis.

Additionally, on the syllabus, the Old Testament is listed under the dates of 4000 BC to 300 BC, which the American Humanist Association cites as evidence of a religious bias"

"Outside the realm of fundamentalist religion, it is generally accepted that the Old Testament was written in the first millennium BCE, and more specifically was set down in what is more or less its current form (in Hebrew, not English) between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE. Thus, one must wonder why the "4000 BC" reference is made by Mrs. Kasten.

"The only sensible explanation, it seems, is a religious one. That is, a biblical literalist view might understand the world to be approximately 6000 years old (meaning that Adam and Eve would have dwelled in the Garden of Eden around the year 4000 BCE). Thus, the fact that the Kasten curriculum categorizes Genesis and Exodus as being literature presumably dating back to 4000 BCE is not only misleading and inaccurate, it also seems to reflect an effort to present biblical literalism as truth. Again, this is a view that would be unsupported by any objective academic standard."

The American Humanist Association's letter claims this a Constitutional violation, and wants the school to respond to this letter within a week.

"Sometimes references to religious material might be appropriate," Niose says. "We're not trying to banish religious text altogether from English courses, but this syllabus is just extremely heavy in religious material."

Representative Farnsworth, the addressee of the letter and the president of the Benjamin Franklin Charter School, did not immediately return a message left with an assistant this morning.

The American Humanist Association isn't ruling out the possibility of a lawsuit over the curriculum, but the organization doesn't have immediate plans to file one.

"We're going to take it one step at a time," Niose says.

The letter, along with a copy of the syllabus, are embedded below:

American Humanist Association letter to Rep. Eddie Farnsworth

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley