A school district in Arkansas is planning to add an academic course on the Holy Bible for its public system, in keeping with a recently passed state law.
Westside Consolidated School District is hoping to have a curriculum in time for a course to be taught during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Westside Superintendent Bryan Duffie told The Christian Post in an interview that the idea for a Bible course was mentioned during the school board's December meeting.
"In the 2013 Arkansas Legislative Session, Act 1440 was passed that allows schools to teach the academic study of the Bible. The [high school] principal conducted a survey of students, and several are interested in the possibility," said Duffie.
"The board authorized the pursuit of a course approval through the Arkansas Department of Education once we adopt curriculum. The state law is very specific on the requirements for the course."
Duffie also told CP that they're looking for a Bible history curriculum to submit to the Westside School Board and Arkansas Department of Education to get their approval.
"This course does not establish any religion in the schools. It may be taught similar to how world religions are taught in the world history course," continued Duffie.
"The state law is clear that this course will not be about any doctrine, beliefs, denomination-specific issues, etc. It is strictly a historical perspective on the Bible and its influence on art, literature, music, history, culture, etc."
In 2013, Arkansas passed House Bill 1017, now known as Act 1440, with the proposed legislation being passed 79-3 in the House and 33-1 in the Senate.
Among the critics of the legislation when it was being debated three years ago was the Washington D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Ian Smith, staff attorney with Americans United, told CP that while it's legal for a Bible course to be taught in public schools "it is easily done wrong and opens the door for constitutional violations and potential lawsuits."
"It doesn't look like the teachers are required to have any kind of specialized instruction or training on how to present this material or interpret this material in the proper fashion. And the teachers most likely to volunteer to teach a Bible study course are the most devout of Christians," said Smith.
"So, combining the fact that Bible study courses tend to attract devout Christian teachers and the fact that these teachers generally don't receive any training or instruction in how to avoid proselytizing or indoctrination, you tend inevitably to get a class that looks exactly like Sunday school."
Smith also told CP that while Act 1440 "talks a good game about not allowing indoctrination or proselytizing," he has his doubts about implementation.
"I don't believe that anyone involved in this, from the Arkansas legislature down to the individual school administrators, has any interest whatsoever in doing anything other than offering up the thinnest legal pretext possible for injecting religious proselytizing into the public schools," asserted Smith.
"If that is the case, and if the school isn't extremely careful about how it does this, then the school is opening itself up to future lawsuits."