Terri Proud, a Republican Rep. from Arizona, has sponsored a bill to create an elective high school course on the Bible and its influence on culture, assuring that it would help students gain knowledge and not seek to elicit devotion.
Rep. Proud, who is on the House Education Committee, wants the state Board of Education to design a course called "The Bible and its Influence on Western Culture" that would be religiously neutral.
"This is such an essential foundation for our kids' knowledge," The Associated Press quoted Proud as saying. "We are so engulfed in it." She said biblical references are found in everything from Michelangelo's paintings and Shakespeare's plays to modern movies and television.
The bill says the course will be an elective and schools can choose not to offer it.
Many schools are already offering such classes as an elective, especially in the South. But Proud says the law will help teachers overcome their fear of mentioning Christianity or the Bible in the classroom. "There's nothing wrong with bringing religion into a classroom," she said. "The issue is we can't bring devotion."
The bill asks the state attorney general to watch over the curriculum to ensure it doesn't conflict with the U.S. Constitution. However, critics see it as unconstitutional.
"It tends to set aside Christianity as a preferred religion," Doug Kilgore from the Arizona Education Association was quoted as saying. "We think that's unconstitutional. We don't believe in passing legislation that's going to be struck down."
Victoria Lopez, a program director at the American Civil Liberties Union's Arizona office, thinks it could result in teachers "crossing the line" and thereby violate students' religious rights. She told AP she was also against involvement of public resources and agencies in a course that is about the Bible.
If the course is objective, it is constitutional, said David Cortman, a lawyer with the Christian legal firm Alliance Defense Fund. "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," Cortman told AP.
Proud argues that English professors "when surveyed across American colleges and Universities see knowledge of the Bible as a deeply important part of a good education, especially for college preparatory students."
She thus introduced HB2563 AND HB2473 "to familiarize pupils with the contents, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy."
According to Proud, 43 states today teach the Bible as literature, history and how it has influenced American culture.
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.