The Texas State Board of Education on Friday gave final approval to establishing a Bible elective for high schools but left specific class guidelines up to local school districts.
Board members voted 10-5 to adopt broad standards for the Bible class. In March, they had already approved current TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills) guidelines for the Bible class but Friday's vote follows the opinion handed down last week by Attorney General Greg Abbott that affirmed the constitutionality of the proposed standards.
“We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don’t want to stifle what they (school districts) are doing in classrooms," said board member Cynthia Dunbar, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Texas high schools can start offering the Bible class for the 2008-09 school year now that the rule has been approved by over two-thirds of the board.
“Elective Bible courses now have the final green light from the Texas State Board of Education and Texas has now gained an academic advantage," said Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs for Free Market Foundation, who testified before the board in support of the class on Thursday.
Some critics, however, said that the without specific guidelines, school districts offering the course could run into legal issues later if a neutral viewpoint of religion is not maintained in the class.
But supporters of the rule say that such concerns are already addressed in the TEKS guidelines, which call for "religious neutrality" and the accommodation of diverse religious views in the classroom.
Furthermore, they argue, the Bible class examines the impact of the Bible on history and literature and is not about religion.
The author of the original bill, Rep. Warren Chisum, had previously affirmed that the class would not "preach the Bible" but examine it as a "document that has historical value." State lawmakers passed legislation on the Bible course in May.
"As we stated and the Attorney General has now confirmed, the current [standards] are sufficient and we are ready to move forward on the new Bible course laws," added Kelly Shackelford, president of Free Market Foundation, a group that helped passed legislation for the class.
Texas now joins other states like Georgia that offer Bible electives in high schools.