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Church State Issues

Arizona high schools may soon offer Bible classes

Jan 24, 2012

By: Alia Beard Rau

Arizona Republic

Arizona high schools may soon offer Bible classes

Arizona's public and charter high-school students could soon earn credit for learning about the influence of the Old Testament on art or how biblical references are found throughout literature.

Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, has proposed legislation that would make Arizona the sixth state in the nation to allow schools to offer a high-school elective course on the Bible. Currently, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Oklahoma have laws allowing such classes.

State law currently doesn't ban the use of the Bible, or any other religious document, as part of a public-school class curriculum as long as it is for academic purposes and does not involve sectarian ideas or religious devotion. But Proud said teachers and school districts are still often afraid to even discuss religion in their classrooms.

"There is this false perception that separation of church means absolutely no religion in school, that the Bible is not allowed," Proud said. "That is absolutely not true." [I suspect teaching the history of the Bible will quickly be forgotten and it they will soon be teaching that the Bible is the word of the God supported by our government rulers]

Her legislation, she said, makes it clear that teachers can teach the Bible "in a very restricted way."

"A lot of it has to do with debunking a lot of ignorance that our districts are trying to force upon the teachers," she said. "There are people out there who hate the Bible and everything about it. That's fine, but don't deprive our children of biblical literature because of your personal feelings." [translation - she thinks that anybody that believes in separation of church and state hates the Bible]

House Bill 2473 would allow public and charter high schools to offer an elective course on the "critical evaluation and examination of the Bible as a literary work" starting June 30, 2013.

HB 2563 would require the State Board of Education to determine the requirements for a high-school course called "The Bible and its Influence on Western Culture." The course must include the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, history, government, literature, art, music customs, morals, values and culture.

The course must follow state and federal law in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating diverse religious views. Course credits must count toward graduation.

"The regulations are very specific," Proud said. "We don't want anybody to go rogue on this topic."

Marc Victor, a Chandler attorney who has represented groups including the Freedom from Religion Foundation in separation-of-church-and-state issues, said he has no problem with the legislation.

"To deny that the Bible has had a substantial influence on our culture, our laws and our ethics would be ridiculous," Victor said. "If it's done in an intellectually honest, non-biased way for educational purposes, it's a great idea." [But it probably won't be taught in an intellectually honest, non-biased way. I suspect it will be taught as Gods word, so I disagree with Victor here.]

Doug Kilgore with the Arizona Education Association disagrees, calling it a solution in search of a problem.

"Teachers, as long as they are even-handed, can already include the Bible in their curriculum," he said.

But he said he questions the constitutionality of specifically allowing a course on the Bible without addressing other religious texts.

The Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been closely monitoring these classes in states that have passed similar legislation.

Senior policy analyst Rob Boston said there is no legal problem with laws allowing schools to offer such classes on the Bible. But there have been problems with some of those doing the teaching.

"These types of classes sound good in theory, but in practicality they can be very difficult to pull off," Boston said. [Translation they are usually not taught in an intellectually honest, non-biased way]

He said there is rarely any teacher training offered for those teaching the course, making it challenging for teachers to walk the line between academic and proselytizing.

He said lawmakers typically have more interest in these classes than students do. [Yes, lawmakers typically want to force the Christian religion on school students with these laws] Georgia, which has offered the course for several years, has seen dwindling interest, Boston said. As a result, many districts have stopped offering the course.

Boston also suggested lawmakers need to think carefully about whether they really want what they are asking for.

"Many people consider the Bible to be the literal rule of God and believe accounts to be history," he said. "But the academic views of the Bible usually hold that the Bible is a collection of stories and myths. So are teachers supposed to ignore the overwhelming majority of scholars and give equal billing to a fundamentalist idea?"

Both bills have been assigned to the House Education Committee but do not yet have a hearing date.