The Arizona State Senate has passed a bill that allows school districts to create a high school elective course that would focus on the Bible and its influence on Western Civilization.
In a 21 to 9 vote on Thursday, the Ariz. Senate has sent the bill to the desk of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. The office of Brewer declined to comment as to whether or not she would sign the bill into law.
Known as House Bill 2563, it was sponsored by Ariz. Representative Terri Proud (R-26) and was passed by the Ariz. House of Representatives in February. In an interview with The Christian Post, Proud explained why she sponsored the bill.
"This piece of legislation acts as a guide to teachers, districts, superintendents, parents and our students as to what the First Amendment, our Constitution, and courts have agreed as permissible use of the Bible in our public schools should they choose," said Proud.
Proud considered the influence of the Bible on the world to be "very significant" and also noted that many countries presently teach the Bible in government schools.
"Many countries in Africa, South America, and other areas either require or allow Bible to be taught in the public government schools, so this isn't a one culture issue, this is a world issue," she said.
According to HB 2563, "A school district or charter school may offer an elective course pertaining to how the Bible has influenced western culture for pupils in grades nine through twelve."
"A teacher who instructs a course offered under this section in its appropriate historical context and in good faith shall be immune from civil liability and disciplinary action," reads the bill.
The class would teach students, among many things, "the contents of the Old Testament and the New Testament," "the history recorded by the Old Testament and the New Testament," and the "influence of the Old Testament and the New Testament on laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture."
Some church-state watchdog groups expressed concern over the bill as it was making its way through the Arizona legislature. Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a bulletin warning about the possible constitutional ramifications of the legislation.
"It does not make clear that a Bible course has to be taught in an objective and non-devotional manner with no attempts to proselytize," said the group.
"In a Jan. 30 letter to the House Education Committee, Americans United said HB 2563 needs significant revisions and warned that public schools have found it difficult to offer Bible classes in a constitutional manner."
Regarding such concerns, HB 2563 does specifically state that the course created will have a nonsectarian neutral focus on the study of the Bible.
"A course offered under this section shall follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions and perspectives of pupils," reads the bill.
"Nothing in this section is intended to violate any provision of the United States Constitution, the Constitution of Arizona or state law or any rules, guidelines or regulations adopted by the United States department of education, the state board of education or the Arizona department of education."