Creationism and constitutional concerns temporarily sidetracked a Bible-in-schools bill Friday.
The legislation, sponsored by Idaho state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, states that the Bible “is expressly permitted to be used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes.”
At a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing, Nuxoll said some teachers are reluctant to use the Bible in class, though various court decisions have upheld the practice.
“This simply codifies a practice that’s already allowed,” she said. “It will eliminate any fear or confusion for students, parents and teachers.”
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The committee spent nearly two hours on the issue. A main hurdle was Article IX, section 6 of the Idaho Constitution, which says books of a “political, sectarian or denominational character” cannot be used in public schools.
Given the Bible’s central place in the history of Western civilization, Nuxoll suggested it eclipses denominational concerns. Eagle Christian Church Pastor Steve Crane went even further, saying it should be viewed as an interfaith text.
“Even Hindus and Buddhists acknowledge the Bible and its value,” Crane said. “It’s consistently a best-seller, decade after decade. Why would we not allow a book of that nature to be studied in school?”
However, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, noted that Idaho delegates debated this issue at length during the state’s 1890 constitutional convention.
“When all was said and done, a motion to include the use of the Bible in schools for nonreligious purposes failed 25 to 18,” he said. “So shouldn’t we be considering a resolution to amend that section of the Constitution, instead of (considering) a statute that tries to interpret the words differently than what it appears the delegates meant?”
Kathy Griesmyer, a public policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, suggested the bill also “opens the door for creationism to be taught in science classes.”
Nuxoll’s bill lists more than a dozen subjects in which the Bible could be used as a reference, including “literature, comparative religion, English and foreign languages, U.S. and world history, comparative government, law, philosophy, ethics, astronomy, biology, geology, world geography, archaeology, music, sociology and other topics of study.”
“This language raises serious constitutional questions,” Griesmyer said.
To address some of these problems — including concerns that the bill refers only to the Bible, without providing the same explicit consideration for other religious texts — the committee sent the measure to the Senate floor for possible amendment.
Specific changes proposed by the committee include removing “astronomy, biology and geology” from the subject list cited in the bill, as well as amending it to allow “religious texts, including the Bible,” to be used as reference texts.