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Bible class in public high schools? Sure, says Arizona House

February 22, 2012|By Ashley Powers
  • Some Arizona lawmakers want to allow high schools to offer a class on the Bible's historical and cultural influence. Here, a personalized Bible is used during a class at a women's prison in Minnesota.
Some Arizona lawmakers want to allow high schools to offer a class on the… (Jeffrey Thompson / Minnesota…)

The Arizona Legislature has never been shy about weighing in on hot-button issues. (Exhibit A: SB 1070, the state's illegal immigration law.) The latest such move: a vote to allow public and charter schools to teach students about the Bible.

The Arizona House this week voted to allow high schools to offer a class called “The Bible and Its Influence on Western Culture,” which would focus on how the Old and New Testaments have influenced everything from law to literature. According to the Arizona Republic, five states already provide similar classes: Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Oklahoma. 

The Arizona bill's opponents don’t dispute that the Bible is a ripe topic for academic study. But some lawmakers predict a constitutional challenge, particularly because the course would not cover other religious texts. In fact, the Arizona House voted down an amendment that would have allowed schools to explore the Book of Mormon’s role in Western culture.

Opponents also raised questions about how teachers would present Biblical stories. As parables? Myths? Literal truth?

“These types of classes sound good in theory, but in practicality they can be very difficult to pull off,” Rob Boston, an analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Republic.

The state Senate, which Republicans also dominate, will now take up the measure.

This is only the latest debate to roil Arizona classrooms. The Tucson Unified School District sparred in recent months with state officials over the district’s Mexican American studies program.

Supporters said it shed light on Chicano contributions to history and literature. But the state superintendent of public instruction, John Huppenthal, ruled that it violated a law banning divisive ethnic studies curricula. Although the district suspended the program, the legal battle over it continues.

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