The Georgia legislature has approved a bill requiring the state board of education to develop a curriculum for two public school classes about the Bible.
Senate Bill 79 orders the school board to prepare electives in the History and Literature of the New Testament Era and the History and Literature of the Old Testament Era, using the Bible as the basic text for the courses. The measure mandates that the courses be taught in “an objective and nondevotional manner” and that they “not disparage or encourage a commitment to a set of religious beliefs.”
The bill passed March 20 with a 151-7 vote in the House and a 45-2 vote in the Senate.
The question of what kind of Bible class to offer and which measure to enact became a point of harsh legislative controversy.
The concept was first brought up by Democratic lawmakers who introduced legislation touting The Bible and Its Influence, a book produced by the Bible Literacy Project (BLP). The Virginia-based BLP is the brainchild of Religious Right activist Chuck Stetson, but the group’s textbook has endorsements from across the ideological spectrum. (See “The Bible Literacy Project: Chuck Stetson’s Trojan Horse?” January 2006 Church & State.)
Some observers suggested that the measure was intended to show evangelical voters in the Bible Belt that Democrats can be as publicly pious as Republicans. The plan backfired, however, when Religious Right groups and their political allies quickly threw their support behind an alternative proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) brought forward his own plan that tracks a curriculum pushed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a North Carolina-based fundamentalist Christian outfit.
Said Williams, “Considering that the Bible is the most influential book ever written in the history of the world, I believe it merits study in our schools, where its value can be properly appreciated and understood.”
The GOP leader excoriated the Democrats, arguing that they were touting a “leftwing, one-world religion/government text…which seeks to undermine the claims that the Bible makes.”
Under Williams’ scheme, local school districts will be free to adopt the Bible classes if they wish. Each school board will be allowed to choose which version of the Bible to offer in the classes, but students will be allowed to select another version if they prefer.