School or Sunday School? Professor presents on canceled business/religion class

Megan Swindell

“I think the line between church and state is as blurry as ever,” said Randall Wilson, legal director of American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

An ISU finance course, which aims to “compare biblical ideas to contemporary management” was canceled last year partially because how it mixed religion and business.

In honor of Iowa State’s 10th anniversary celebration of First Amendment Day, Roger Stover, the professor who proposed the course joined together with Wilson; Craig Lubow, criminal defense and family law attorney; Timm Reid, personal injury and medical negligence law practitioner and Leif Segen, representative for Amnesty International to discuss this blurring line between church and state.

“My idea was to take this book, ‘How to Run Your Business by the Book,’ which is a sectarian book, and have students come in and evaluate it,” Stover said. “The goal of the seminar would have been to critically examine aspects of the ideas of the Bible in comparison with business management.”

“Not one person ever asked me what I was going to teach — the presumption was that I was going to bring religion into a secular community,” Stover said. “And let me say up front that that is not what I intended.”

Randall who was a part of the course evaluation process said, “I think it’s possible that the controversy over this course was caused by perceptions and an inability to understand what was being proposed.”

“However, the text was designed not for public school settings because it was not necessarily the best business practice techniques but rather it’s how to run your business according to this author’s interpretation of what God wants,” he said. “If Iowa State began teaching what does God want and using tax dollars, then we’ve got a problem.”

Contrarily, “What I’m thinking is it had potential if it were presented in a neutral way,” Timm said. “Just because somebody’s religious viewpoint is involved doesn’t mean there isn’t room for it in an educational setting in a university.”

The conversation proved the reason for the blurring line as each of the panelists had different viewpoints on subject matter.

“I still have a little bit of a problem with that course,” Lubow said. “The amendment is not just to protect from favoritism of one religion over another, but it goes further to protect from religion over not religion.”

Segen suggested a more accepting, alternative to the issue at hand.

“In Australia, they have acknowledged the ignorance people have of other beliefs.”

He noted that educating and extending the horizon of beliefs will do better than shutting it up and not allowing the knowledge to be accessible in universities.

Although the course was not put forth as an option for ISU students, the debate between church and state was not canceled with it.

Reid said: “I’m hoping that people take away from this that everyone is challenged to step out of their comfort zones in regards to the First Amendment.”