Bible literacy bills introduced across the states

By: Kenyan Carter | Web Editor

A new wave of states has considered adding Bible literacy classes into their public schools. The classes under discussion would be elective courses that teach the books of the Bible from the perspective of history and literature.

This year, Bible literacy bills have been introduced in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The bill proposed in Alabama is being spearheaded by Senator Tim Melson (R- Florence). According to USA Today, Melson began pushing the bill because “teachers in his district want to teach the Bible and don’t feel comfortable doing it without a law.”

Melson’s bill would allow Bible literacy as an elective for grades 6-12 and would require the State Board of Education to add rules and policies to implement it.

However, a similar bill was proposed last year in Alabama that failed to pass according to the ACLU, making it an uphill battle for Melson despite support from Senate leadership.

The Alabama chapter of the ACLU said the bill has “no useful purpose and is an invitation to lure school districts into a false sense of security to take unconstitutional actions.”

Similar bills have already passed in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. A key difference, however, is that while each of these states provides academic credit for Bible courses, the policy didn’t require schools to offer them or students to take them.

This new push for Bible classes comes from a campaign from the Republican Party. Republicans promoted use of the policy in their 2016 party platform stating, “A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools.”

It was also endorsed by President Trump via Twitter stating, “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

Opponents of the legislation argue that the policy comes dangerously close to violating the U.S. Constitution by integrating the church and state in this way.

“State legislators should not be fooled that these bills are anything more than part of a scheme to impose Christian beliefs on public schoolchildren,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said.

Laser believes the classes are likely to convey a religious message and preference which would violate the first amendment.

There is legal precedent for certain forms of Bible classes in public schools. In the 1963 case  School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not allow public schools from sponsoring Bible readings and prayer.

However, the Court did not see a legal issue with teaching religion as a secular course, stating, “It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”