Georgia Lawmakers Propose Bible Study Course

Lawmakers in Georgia proposed an elective Bible literacy course on Wednesday, stating that the course would be constitutional.

Senate Bill 437 would authorize the state school board to approve a high school course teaching about the Bible’s influence on literature, art, culture and politics, promising a “nonsectarian, non religious academic study.”

The course would "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."

State Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Myrna), who co-sponsored the bill, said that from Shakespeare writings to the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” students would be aided by knowing the Bible.

“If you’re not familiar with those biblical references, you miss a lot of what the letter’s meaning was,” Stoner said.

The bill does not suggest a particular book or curriculum but senators who spoke about their proposal on Wednesday had copies of a book called “The Bible and Its Influence” published last year by the Bible Literacy Project. A competing organization called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) has criticized the book for passages it says are critical of Christian doctrines.

If the idea for the new course moves forward, it would be up to state education officials to pick the reading materials, AP reported.

Current laws in Georgia allow for local school systems to create classes for studying the Bible or other religious states without approval from the state school board or the legislature, according to AP.

Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta) said that the class was being introduced through legislation instead of local school boards to protect local systems from facing legal challenges alone, AP reported. The state Attorney General’s office would defend the course if necessary.

Maggie Garrett, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said it was possible to teach about the Bible in constitutional ways but added that it was difficult. She suggested that one way to improve the bill would be to add other religious texts, AP reported.

She noted that some parents could object to the course even if it was carefully worded.

"Parents don't want to send their kids to public school to have an interpretation of the Bible taught that may not be their interpretation of the Bible," Garrett said.

However State Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta), who also helped introduce the bill, emphasized that the course was necessary.

“As a history major, I understand very clearly the impact the Bible has had on society,” said Golden, according to AP.

“It’s had a huge impact.”