The Tennessee State Board of Education approved guidelines Thursday on how to teach the Bible in public high schools.
The curriculum, which will start next fall, was developed in response to a bill that coasted easily through the state legislature in 2008 following a series of unanimous votes on the house floor.
Under the bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Roy Herron, the state is authorized to create a course for a "nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible."
While the measure has raised concerns among opponents, who believe it would throw open school doors to proselytizing and breach the separation of church and state, Herron has argued that it would not force schools throughout the state to offer Bible classes. Instead, the bill would protect schools that already offer Bible classes, while making the classes an option for schools that wish to participate.
Still, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee intends to keep an eye on the legislation, noting that whether the Bible classes are constitutional or not depends on who is teaching them and how they are taught.
"The devil is in the details," Hedy Weinberg, the state's ACLU director, told The Tennessean.
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools may not require devotional use of the Bible but explicitly acknowledged that academic study of the Bible in public schools is constitutional, as part of a good education.
The Supreme Court has held that public schools may teach students about the Bible as long as such teaching is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education."
Similarly, the U.S. Department of Education guidelines state that public schools "may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture."
Currently, over 70 of Tennessee's 95 counties feature elective courses on the Bible in their schools.