Who among us has not used the Bible in class to strengthen an allusion or to reinforce an interpretation? If ever teachers hesitated, they did have an earlier law on their side, for public schools in Idaho have been permitted to teach about the Bible and other religious texts as history or literature. So why now is there a proposed law highlighting the Bible exclusively by name?
The precise statute it would replace required Bible passages to be selected by the Idaho Board of Education and to be read in each classroom daily: 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. Such reading shall be without comment or interpretation. Any question by any pupil shall be referred for answer to the pupil’s parent or guardian. This law was enacted in 1963.
The new law would state: The Bible is expressly permitted to be used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes to further the study of literature, comparative religion, English and foreign languages, United States and world history, comparative government, law, philosophy, ethics, astronomy, biology, geology, world geography, archaeology, music, sociology, and other topics of study where an understanding of the Bible may be useful or relevant.
Other states have passed similar laws. But other states do not have a state constitution which bans the use of “books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character” in public schools. The Idaho Attorney General issued an opinion that pointed out how the current bill could “raise a religious preference issue” that is specifically prohibited by Idaho’s Constitution. A legal challenge of such a law could be costly for taxpayers. The AG reported, “Insofar as the draft bill carves out the Bible from other religious texts for special statutory treatment, it may raise the question whether Judeo-Christian values are being given preference.” Attempts by legislators to reword the bill to include “other religious texts” repeatedly failed.
Among the legislators supporting this bill, one pointed to the Bible’s role in America’s founding, law, and government. “It is fundamental to the American way of life, and therefore is different from the Koran or (any other) of these texts one wants to bring up as religious,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri. Other supporters felt the Bible itself was a text “under attack.” Since Idaho teachers can, under existing law, use the Bible and religious texts where relevant, bill supporters said there was reason to clarify the Bible by name.
Brown, Nathan. “Clow, Wood Join Dems to Vote Against Bibles in Schools Bill.” Times News. 22 March 2016, A3.
Haake, Kathryn. “Idaho Senate Approves Measure Permitting Bible in Schools” Idaho Statesman 7 March 2016.
Idaho Education Association Hotline. “House Committee Approves Bible-in-Schools Bill.” 17 March 2016.
Kane, Brian. “Use of the Bible in Public Schools.” Opinion of the Idaho Attorney General (2016).