Feb. 21, 2012 04:00 PM
The Arizona House on Tuesday passed a bill to allow schools to offer a course on the Bible's influence on American history and culture.
House Bill 2563, sponsored by Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, allows public and charter schools to offer a high-school elective called "The Bible and Its Influence on Western Culture." The course must address the influence of the Old and the New Testaments on laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.
The bill passed the House 42-15. It now goes to the Senate.
The House debate was passionate.
"This bill was first introduced in 2006 in Alabama by a Democrat," Proud said. "This isn't about being Republican. This is about America."
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the bill, if it becomes law, will face a constitutional challenge.
"And I believe we are going to lose," he said.
Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, voted for the bill after unsuccessfully proposing an amendment to also allow schools to teach a course on the Book of Mormon's influence on Western culture.
"I truly believe that allowing the Bible to be taught in our public high schools will have an unintended effect," he said. "Students that read Scripture and understand the mandates that it asks us will gravitate toward the Democratic Party."
Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, voted no. He said the Legislature has better things to do.
"Our schools need more funding," he said. "We should not be pushing what I see as an intrusion of America's founding liberties of separation of church and state."
Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, voted for the bill.
"School districts are not required to implement this course. It is a choice that will be made by each school district," she said. "And this is not a study in religion. It is a cultural exploration of how the Bible as a teaching instrument will aid in understanding the development of our country."
Bible class in public high schools? Sure, says Arizona House
By Ashley Powers
February 22, 2012, 2:23 p.m.
The Arizona Legislature has never been shy about weighing in on hot-button issues. (Exhibit A: SB 1070, the state's illegal immigration law.) The latest such move: a vote to allow public and charter schools to teach students about the Bible.
The Arizona House this week voted to allow high schools to offer a class called “The Bible and Its Influence on Western Culture,” which would focus on how the Old and New Testaments have influenced everything from law to literature. According to the Arizona Republic, five states already provide similar classes: Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
The Arizona bill's opponents don’t dispute that the Bible is a ripe topic for academic study. But some lawmakers predict a constitutional challenge, particularly because the course would not cover other religious texts. In fact, the Arizona House voted down an amendment that would have allowed schools to explore the Book of Mormon’s role in Western culture.
Opponents also raised questions about how teachers would present Biblical stories. As parables? Myths? Literal truth?
“These types of classes sound good in theory, but in practicality they can be very difficult to pull off,” Rob Boston, an analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Republic.
The state Senate, which Republicans also dominate, will now take up the measure.
This is only the latest debate to roil Arizona classrooms. The Tucson Unified School District sparred in recent months with state officials over the district’s Mexican American studies program.
Supporters said it shed light on Chicano contributions to history and literature. But the state superintendent of public instruction, John Huppenthal, ruled that it violated a law banning divisive ethnic studies curricula. Although the district suspended the program, the legal battle over it continues.