State bill would allow Bible courses to be taught in public schools
Christian Bible study courses are one step closer to being an option for students attending Arizona’s high schools.
On Feb. 21, House Bill 2563, introduced by Republican Rep. Terri Proud, was passed through the Arizona House by a 42-15 vote and will now go to the state Senate.
The bill would allow public high schools to offer an elective class called “The Bible and its Influence on Western Culture.” The course offered would teach students the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Bible’s influence on society, law, art and values.
Zachary Smith, a political science professor, said the bill is another attempt by the state to micromanage classrooms.
“Never underestimate the veracity of the Arizona legislature to do something unexpected,” Smith said. “I know teachers in that state are already fed up with the number of mandates and restrictions that they have on what they teach and how they teach.”
Jason BeDuhn, a professor of religious studies, said in an email that to have a well-balanced system, there should be courses in other religions offered.
“They need to propose another course — besides the ones suggested on the Bible — on the religions of the world,” BeDuhn said. “We will not provide high school graduates with a basic set of knowledge for citizenship until we do that.”
Smith said he does not see this bill introducing future legislation or opportunities for other religious course offerings.
“Realistically [and] politically, it would be naive to think that a school is going to use this as an opportunity to offer classes in Islam at the high school level in Arizona,” Smith said. ‘The context here in Arizona suggests that there’s an underlying motive here.”
Rep. Proud said in an email there is an importance for such courses to be offered at the public education level.
“If we have professors from esteemed universities telling us the importance of this knowledge, then shouldn’t we be listening?” Proud said. “Many countries . . . either require or allow the Bible to be taught in the public government schools, so this isn’t a one culture issue or a one religion. This is a world issue.”
While Smith said he believes teaching religion in high school is a good idea, he also believes the state legislature has other motives in introducing the bill.
“This is kind of a backdoor attempt to get religious teachings of a particular persuasion in schools,” Smith said.
An important issue in this debate is the First Amendment rights of students and the problems teachers may face in teaching the course curriculum. Opponents have criticized the bill and accused the state of ignoring other religions through the teaching of the course.
“I’m not arguing that we should not have separation of church and state,” Proud said. “However we do recognize a God, which is not a church, hence the reason . . . our President ends his address to the U.S. with ‘God save the United States,’ we end our Pledge of Allegiance with ‘One nation under God,’ and our currency has ‘In God we Trust’ printed on it.”
BeDuhn said the Arizona legislature is setting itself up for problems down the road unless it relies on the aid of experts to train instructors and set course curriculum.
“I don’t mean getting advice from so-called ‘experts’ or paid consultants brought in . . . usually to ‘advise’ the state to adopt a pre-packaged curriculum,” BeDuhn said. “I mean drawing on the expertise already present and paid for in the state: the faculty of the religious studies programs at the state universities. There is nothing wrong with these proposals up front. The devil is in the details of carrying them out.”