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The Arkansas House has approved Bill 1017 which will require the Arkansas Board of Education to sign off on classes involving academic study of the Bible. The bill received overwhelming approval by a margin of 79-3. The classes will not be required, but will be approved Bible electives.
Department of Education Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart said there are already four or five schools offering these classes in Arkansas. The bill, if passed through the Senate and signed off by Governor Mike Beebe, will allow public schools the opportunity to teach Bible text as a form of literature, not religious doctrine. By taking this approach, the Separation of Church and State Clause of the U.S. Constitution is not violated according to lawmakers.
The bill’s intent states,
“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.”
If the bill passes, Arkansas would not be the first state to implement a Bible elective course of study. In the 2009-2010 school year, some 350 schools in 43 states implemented elective courses that use both a textbook and the Bible. While this is good news for many parents, others are very concerned as to who will be teaching the courses and from what philosophical perspective they will approach it.