A peek between the pages of the Bible bill
You’d think lawmakers and the governor are tiring of controversy as they approach the end of this year’s legislative session. But in what is widely seen as a contentious move in secular society, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law House Bill 2563, a measure allowing schools to offer a high school course on the Bible’s influence on Western culture.
So much for going quietly into that good night.
The donnybrook centers on the appropriateness of Bible literature as a foundational, albeit elective, course of study. Advocates say the Bible should be part of the curriculum because it is closely identified with Western history, government and mores, especially in America. Critics worry that students will be forced-fed the values of one denomination and question the constitutionality of the course since other religious works (e.g., the Koran, Book of Mormon) are excluded. They also argue that teachers are academically ill-equipped to teach Bible-related topics effectively.
In a nutshell, the legislation would:
In an attempt to stay inside the bounds of constitutional or legal mandates and ensure course objectivity, HB 2563 would also:
Arizona is the sixth state to allow schools to offer Bible courses. It remains to be seen if the resulting ruckus has legs. Georgia, the first state to enact such a law, has seen waning interest in Bible education. Just 21 schools in 16 Georgia districts – out of 180 school districts statewide – offered the voluntary classes last school year, according to the Huffington Post. That’s down from 48 districts four years ago.
Besides the general lack of academic interest, Georgia educators say students have “little time in their class schedules for elective courses because they have to repeat the state's new, tougher math courses or need an Advanced Placement class to help with college admissions.” Moreover, cash-strapped schools say it’s tough to justify funding for classes that attract few students.
A “teachable moment” might be in the offing if HB 2563 ends up being something the politicians wanted more badly than Arizona students.
Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.
Ed Perkins is a policy analyst at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, an ASU think tank.