Arkansas House Approves Bill for Academic Study of Bible in Public Schools

Lawmakers of the Arkansas House of Representatives voted 79-3 on Monday to approve a bill that would allow public schools to teach about the Bible from a nonreligious standpoint.

House Bill 1017, sponsored by Rep. Denny Altes (R-Fort Smith), allows public schools to teach the Bible if they follow certain guidelines, including adding an appropriate amount of academic rigor to the course. Additionally, the bible would be offered as a history or social studies elective course, and must be taught from an academic standpoint as a piece of literature, rather than a form of religious doctrine.

"The State Board of Education shall allow for an elective academic study of the Bible course or courses that consist of a nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture, and politics to be offered to students in public school districts, if the academic study of the Bible course meets the standards listed in this section," reads the text of the bill.

The bill also adds that the courses would "be taught in an objective and non devotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the biblical materials or texts from other religions or cultural traditions."

Many have expressed their support for the bill, including Richard Holland, a resident of the state, who told local Region 8 News that he believes the bill will be beneficial to younger generations.

"I think it [Bible study] is important, not only in the school but in the church as well," Holland told Region 8 News. "The parents, it's their responsibility to get their kids in church, and if the school wants to broaden that teaching, I believe that'd be okay," Holland added.

Others, however, classify the bill as unnecessary. Department of Education Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart told The Associated Press Monday that she believes the bill is unnecessary because Arkansas schools already have permission to offer academic Bible courses as electives. In fact, according to Stewart, four or five schools in the state already offer the elective option.

Those in support of the bill acknowledge that its passing serves merely to codify these academic courses into law. Additionally, the bill would make a Bible course accessible in more schools.

As The Huffington Post points out, this bill comes one year after Governor Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.) signed legislation requiring the Board of Education to design an elective for high school students titled "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," which would teach connections between the Bible and how current western society was formed.

Currently, six states allow Bible elective courses for high schoolers: Arizona, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

The Bill will next go to the state Senate for a vote before it arrives on the desk of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe.