Arkansas Bible Course Bill Proposed By Rep. Denny Altes To Teach Elective In Public Schools

Arkansas schools could soon have an easier way to teach a Bible course as part of its public curriculum.

Republican state Rep. Denny Altes has proposed a bill that would allow the state's public school districts to adopt an elective curriculum for academic study of the Bible. The course would "consist of a nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture and politics" and would "be taught in an objective and non devotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the biblical materials or texts from other religions or cultural traditions."

Laura Bednar, assistant commissioner for the Arkansas Department of Education, tells KTHV that some schools already teach such a class, as school districts can request elective approval from the state by submitting a curriculum proposal. Altes' bill would just make a Bible course accessible to more schools.

A similar bill died in committee in 2011, WPTY reports. The new piece of legislation requires a licensed educator who will not be selected based on religious affiliation or beliefs, and can only teach from a strictly academic perspective.

Legal experts tell WPTY and KTHV that the bill as written is legal and does not violate the separation of church and state -- because it proposes an elective course that is to be taught objectively.

Martha Williams-McMurrian, the grandmother of children in Arkansas public schools, says she supports the measure, telling KTHV that "God should never be taken out of the schools." But others called the course "brainwashing" and said a Bible course must be taught alongside other religious texts as well.

Altes' proposal comes nearly a year after Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.) signed legislation that that requires the state Board of Education to design a high school elective course titled "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," which would include lessons on the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, government and culture, among other aspects of society.

Arizona became the sixth state to allow districts to offer a high school elective Bible course -- Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina were the only ones with laws permitting these courses. Other states like Kentucky had introduced similar proposals, but the bills have failed to become law.