An Arizona bill that creates a high school course for public and charter school students that teaches the Bible and its role in Western culture is headed to the Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's desk for approval.
The state Senate approved House Bill 2563 Thursday with a vote of 21-9. It was approved by the House in February.
Under the proposal, the state Board of Education must design a high school elective course titled "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," which would include lessons on the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, government and culture, among other aspects of society.
The course must follow state and federal laws in maintaining religious neutrality, and credits from the course would count toward student graduation. Students are also not to be required to use a specific version of the Bible. Republican state Rep. Terri Proud, who sponsored the bill, said the proposals are written in a way that make 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," Proud told The Republic in January. "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."
Proud says students would benefit from learning about the Bible as foundational, basic knowledge. Arizona state law doesn't ban the use of the Bible or other religious texts in the classroom as long as it is being used for academic purposes without intent on religious indoctrination.
"It is everywhere around us, and to say that I don't want my child exposed to that, then we might as well not have air and breathe because it is implemented into our society," Proud previously told MyFox Phoenix.
Critics are troubled by the bills, arguing that teaching religion and the Bible is tricky -- and teachers are often not sufficiently or properly trained to teach the subject effectively.
If Brewer signs the bill, Arizona would become the sixth state to allow districts to offer a high school elective Bible course. Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina are currently the only ones with laws permitting these courses. Other states like Kentucky have introduced similar proposals, but the bills have failed to be come law.
HB 2563 is one of two coursework-related proposals by Proud. HB 2473, which is still in the House, would allow high schools to offer an elective course on the "critical evaluation and examination of the Bible as a literary work" beginning June 30, 2013.