WASHINGTON - A museum devoted to the Bible is being built in Washington, D.C. backed by an evangelical Christian businessman who owns one of the world’s largest private collections of biblical artifacts and manuscripts.
Steve Green is a key figure in the debate over what the Constitution’s separation of church and state means in America today.
Last year, his family’s company, the craft store chain Hobby Lobby, won a Supreme Court case against having to provide health insurance to employees that covers certain kinds of birth control. He has also sought to introduce a Bible course in public schools in his native Oklahoma, where he lives.
Construction work is underway and the $400 million Museum of the Bible is scheduled to open in 2017 in a location surrounded by federal government buildings and just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. That has led critics to doubt Green’s and other benefactors’ motives.
“There’s no question that if you want to build a museum to the Bible, to the Quran, any building at all, and someone is willing to sell you the property, you have the right to buy it in this country," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
But he suspects the project is part of an effort to infuse government with conservative Christian values.
“I can’t believe that the people who created the Bible Museum wanted this to be anywhere but close to the center of power,” Lynn said.
Washington may be the center of American political power, but it is also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums, and that was the reason Washington was chosen, said Museum of the Bible President Cary Summers.
He said the history of scripture will be presented in a non-denominational way through multimedia exhibits, ancient Torah scrolls, parchments from the New Testament and other items from the Green collection.
“We’re trying to be as academically correct, as non-biased as we can, and as non-sectarian as we can,” Summers said.
When it opens, the Museum of the Bible will be as large as some of the Smithsonian museums just two blocks away on the National Mall.
Asked at a press conference whether he hoped the Bible museum might bring people to Christianity, Steve Green said:
“We would hope people would consider what the book has to say and that’s a choice that they make. And if it’s compelling, then that is a decision they can make on their own,” he said. “But we believe it’s something that everybody ought to consider.”