BOISE (Christian Examiner) – State senators in Idaho have voted 34-3 to approve a bill allowing for the academic study of the Bible in public schools.
In Senate Bill 1342, legislators noted that "the Bible is expressly permitted" for use as a reference tool where religion intersects with other subjects, such as literature, comparative religion, U.S. and world history, music, sociology, astronomy, ethics, biology, and "other topics of study where an understanding of the Bible may be useful or relevant."
The law codifies on a state level what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Abington v. Schempp in 1963. In that case, the high court struck down a law mandating daily Bible reading in schools. However, it provided an important distinction on the study of religion.
"It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment," justices said in the ruling.
Idaho's first Bible reading law, passed in 1963, required that "selections from the Bible, to be chosen from a list prepared from time to time by the state board of education, shall be read daily to each occupied classroom in each school district." The law also said the reading should be without interpretation and any questions which arose from the reading should be referred to parents.
Enforcement of the law was struck down in 1964, but it remained on the books. SB 1342, which now moves to the Idaho House for consideration, would officially repeal the older law.
Republican Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll said the bill was intended to remove the antiquated education code about the Bible and inform teachers what use of the Bible (or other religious texts) is permissible in classrooms.
"In an environment often clouded by political correctness, Senate Bill 1342 eliminates confusion as to what your rights are and affirms free speech for our students, parents and teachers," Nuxoll said.
Several Democrat senators opposed the bill, claiming it did not mention other religious texts and gave the Bible elevated status.