Arizona Kids Can Now Learn About the Bible at School -- but No Other Religious Texts

Under Arizona law, "all books, publications, papers and audiovisual materials of a sectarian, partisan or denominational character" are prohibited from public schools and their libraries.

Thanks to Governor Jan Brewer's signature on House Bill 2563, that law now excludes the Bible.

The Bible's been declared OK, as the bill also allows high schools to offer classes on "how the Bible has influenced Western culture," although nothing requires youngsters to take the class.

As you can imagine, not everyone's on board with the idea.

A group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote a letter to the House Education Committee about the bill in January, suggesting a "comparative religions course, which would be less likely to endorse a specific religion or attempt to indoctrinate students."

Before that, the group wrote on its website that some legislators "seem to believe that Bible classes are a way to sneak that old-time religion in through the schoolhouse back door.

"They aren't," an Americans United policy analyst wrote. "And any public school officials who believe otherwise will quickly learn how wrong they are once the inevitable lawsuits have been filed."

According to a House summary on the bill, here's what the classes will include:

  • The contents, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy.
  • The contents of, history recorded by and literary style and structure of the Old and New Testament.
  • The influence of the Old and New Testament on laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.

While that happens, telling a story from the Bhagavad Gita will cause a teacher to lose his or her teaching certificate. Telling the kids about the story of Noah, from the Quran -- kiss the teaching certificate goodbye. The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? No way.

The Secular Coalition for Arizona also sees this as an issue, saying that "allowing public schools to teach from the Christian bible and no other religious text clearly privileges the Christian religion and suppresses the voices of religious minorities and nonbelievers whose traditions have also contributed to Western culture."

The bill does give some religious freedom, allowing kids to choose which version of the Old and New Testaments they want to use for the class.

It also protects teachers from civil or disciplinary actions if they're teaching about the Bible in "appropriate historical context and in good faith."

So Bible up, kids, you've got some learnin' to do.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley