The Arkansas House passed on Friday a bill that would allow schools to offer a Bible course.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Denny Altes (R), was approved in a 71-16 vote.
According to the legislation, public schools would not be required to teach the Bible but would have the option of offering an elective course on what Altes has called "the world's most popular history book."
The bill has been met with opposition from freethinkers and atheists. Kirk Dixon of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers questioned the intention of the bill.
"There’s such a thing as separation of church and state, and they just keep pushing it and pushing it and pushing it," Dixon said earlier, according to Arkansas News. "We don’t need religion in the public schools. We have it pushed down our throat everywhere we go, and all they’re trying to do is brainwash young kids with their religion."
Altes, a Baptist, introduced the legislation in December and stressed that it would be taught as a history course.
The course would consist of a "nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture, and politics." Curriculum for the course would also have to meet the academic standards approved by the state board and the requirements of the Arkansas Constitution and U.S. Constitution.
Additionally, the course would not be based on any profession of faith or lack thereof or any particular beliefs about the Bible.
"An academic study of the Bible course offered by a public school district shall: be taught in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the biblical materials or texts from other religious or cultural traditions; ... not disparage or encourage a commitment to a set of religious beliefs," the bill states.
The state Education Department has already approved a curriculum that would teach the Bible as literature for the Little Rock and Cabot school districts.
Nevertheless, Altes directed the Education Department to the curriculum already developed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools as a starting point for the course he proposed.
The Council's curriculum has already been voted into 563 school districts in 38 states. Over 360,000 students have taken the course nationwide.
The bill now faces the state Senate.