Iowa high school students could soon have the option of taking a Bible literacy course that focuses on the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Skyler Wheeler, Rep. Dean Fisher, and 10 other Republicans, would direct the state’s Department of Education to prepare material and train teachers on how to teach the elective course.
“This bill allows school districts to offer students a course in Bible literacy as long as it is taught in an academic sense, rather than devotional,” Rep. Wheeler wrote in nwestiowa.com.
“Basically, I want to give students the opportunity to study the Bible from the perspective of its impact on history and culture,” Rep. Dean Fisher told the Des Moines Register.
Wheeler adds the bill has strong support in both the House and the Senate.
The Iowa Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization, is also endorsing the bill.
“Schools can use the Bible as a historical, cultural, and literary subject of study, but not as a devotional resource. Or in other words, you can teach it, but you can’t preach it,” Drew Zahn, Family Leader’s director of communications, told CBN News via email.
However, opponents of the bill are criticizing it as an “extreme piece of legislation” and believe it violates the Constitution.
“Absolutely not,” Zhan said when asked if the bill violates the Constitution. “The courts have not ruled that the Bible is off limits in our schools, only the promotion of religion. Schools can use the Bible as a historical, cultural, and literary subject of study, but not as a devotional resource. Or in other words, you can teach it, but you can’t preach it.”
Opponents also argue that the bill is an effort to force Christianity into schools.
“We certainly don’t need the government to indoctrinate our kids into one particular religion,” Connie Ryan of Interfaith Alliance Iowa told WSFA-TV.
CBN News reached out to Ryan but has not received a response.
Zhan argues the Bible is culturally significant and is essential to America’s framework.
“The Bible has undeniably had an enormous influence on Western Civilization and America, especially in the areas of culture, law, art, and literature. A solid grasp of the Bible, it’s major themes and stories, is essential to fully understanding our history and culture, from Shakespeare, to the Declaration of Independence, to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., and more,” he wrote.
“Yet too few of our children are being exposed to the Bible, and schools are often too intimidated by the controversy, leaving a massive gap in our graduates’ education,” Zahn added. “Encouraging constitutional and religion-neutral elective courses in public high schools aims to rectify that for those who desire to learn more.”
Similiar laws have passed in Arizona, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
West Virginia lawmakers have also recently proposed having Bible literacy offered as an elective course in public and private schools.