Arizona Bible Courses: Lawmaker Introduces Bill To Teach Bible Elective In Public Schools

An Arizona lawmaker wants to create a high school course for public and charter school students that would teach the Bible and its role in Western culture.

House Bill 2473, proposed by Republican state Rep. Terri Proud, 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.

A second proposal, HB 2563, would require the State Board of Education to determine requirements for a high school 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. The regulations are intentionally specific so no one will "go rogue on this topic," Proud told The Arizona Republic. She notes that the bills 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. "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 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. It's also difficult to teach a Bible course without imposing religious views, even inadvertently, Victoria Lopez, a program director with the Arizona office of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Associated Press.

"It's very easy for teachers to cross the line and violate students' religious rights," Lopez told AP. "There's a lot of room here for those violations to take place."

Others, like Sue Skidmore, president of the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board, told AP that issues on high school electives shouldn't even belong in the Legislature, and that state lawmakers have more pressing issues to tend to.

If the bills pass, 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.

And while the debate in Arizona over the courses is over educational value, fairness and legality, the question elsewhere is one of money.

Georgia was the first state in the country to allow Bible education classes in public schools when the program first launched in 2006. But as the years passed, student interest in the once-controversial courses has slowed, and Bible course offerings across the state are dwindling amid budget cuts and low class enrollment.

Columbia County schools Superintendent Charles Nagle recently cut Bible classes from three to one in his district. Students are also finding less time in their packed schedules for elective courses as they strive to meet basic state graduation requirements.

According to MyFox Phoenix, the attorney general will review the proposed Arizona curriculum to ensure constitutionality. The bills have been assigned to the House Education Committee, pending a hearing date.