The South Dakota House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a resolution that calls for academic instruction on the Bible in public schools.
The House voted 55-13, with two excused, to pass the resolution sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve Hickey from Sioux Falls.
The non-binding resolution, HCR 1004, urges schools to support elective classes to teach the Bible, saying awareness on the role of the Bible in literature, art, culture and public discourse will benefit students.
Citing the National School Boards Association, which validates the academic teaching of the Bible in public schools, the resolution says the state Board of Education should make Bible instruction a part of its curriculum planning. It also calls for identification of teaching material and principles that will not violate the First Amendment guarantee of separation of church and state.
The Bible, the resolution states, "has been a cornerstone of Western civilization, its content permeating nearly all aspects of culture" yet Bible literacy is low in the United States.
While Hickey is hoping students will become more familiar with the contents of the Bible and the role it has played in U.S. history, some Democratic representatives are against the measure.
"If they're talking about the Bible, it's hard to imagine an instructor won't take it to the next step and preach about religion," Rep. Marc Feinstein, also from Sioux Falls, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. Feinstein, a Jew, added that schools, and not the legislature, should decide the curriculum.
Hickey said propagation of Christianity was not his intention. Schools, he suggested, could also teach other religious books, including the Koran or the Book of Mormon, for their cultural and historical significance, according to Rapid City Journal.
Rep. Shawn Tornow, a Republican, pointed out that the measure was in line with the state's motto: "Under God the People Rule." "I think it's appropriate under this resolution to give kids the opportunity to understand, historically, who God is," he was quoted as saying.
Last week, Terri Proud, a Republican Rep. from Arizona, also sponsored a bill to create an elective high school course on Bible and its influence on culture. "This is such an essential foundation for our kids' knowledge," he said. "We are so engulfed in it."
While many public schools across the country offer academic instructions on the Bible without a law or a resolution to that effect, its endorsement by lawmakers can help the teachers overcome their fear of mentioning Christianity or the Bible in the classroom, Republicans argue.
Responding to critics of the bill in Arizona, David Cortman, a lawyer with the Christian legal firm Alliance Defense Fund, said if the course is objective, it is constitutional. "I believe it's an extremely important type of course to provide just because our culture is so saturated with biblical reference and biblical allusions."
Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Oklahoma have also passed laws providing for Bible instructions in schools.
A 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibited ceremonial Bible readings in schools but allowed teaching of its literary and historic qualities in an objective way.