A Republican lawmaker from Tucson wants to allow the Bible to be taught as an elective in high school.
State Rep. Terri Proud said the concept is gaining support among her colleagues in the House.
Current state law states that a teacher who uses sectarian or denominational books, or who teaches any sectarian doctrine in school, is guilty of unprofessional conduct and may have his or her license revoked.
Proud said HB 2563 and HB 2473 aren't about bringing church in the classroom, but aim to familiarize students with the way biblical references impact literature, art, music and public policy.
Proud said that in her discussions with teachers as a member of the House Education Committee, she's heard from many who are fearful of even mentioning God or the Bible in the classroom.
Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone said it strikes him as an unnecessary bill.
The Bible in its historical context is already addressed in various courses as it becomes relevant, he said, and there's also nothing in law now that expressly prohibits a teacher from talking about it.
"I suppose it could give it more of a focus and make sure people understand that, but I'm not sure that's the reason we pass laws. I don't think it belongs in legislation," he said.
But Proud said that, while she agrees that there's nothing in law now that prohibits teaching about the Bible, the fear of getting in trouble for it hamstrings teachers. Biblical references are rife throughout Shakespeare's works, she said, and it would be nearly impossible to teach an art-history class and discuss Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" without having the appropriate religious context.
That makes some degree of sense to Tucson Democratic lawmaker Steve Farley. "If a student is reading Shakespeare and doesn't understand biblical sources, they aren't going to get as much out of it," Farley said, adding that he would encourage students to have some foundational knowledge of the Quran as well.
But Proud said she has no intention of adding the Quran to the mix.
"The Quran hasn't influenced Western culture the way the Bible has," she said, noting students already learn about some ancient religions, including Greek and Roman gods, in their coursework.
"We've put so much fear around any discussion of the Bible that I think it's really causing our kids to miss out."
Chuck Essigs, the interim director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said the Legislature is not the body to take up the discussion, suggesting, instead, that consideration of what educational gaps need to be filled should be left with the State Board of Education.
"I have a concern with the Legislature trying to dictate what types of courses are taught in the school districts. Where would it stop? There are better places for those decisions to be made," he said.
He also said it would be hard to monitor whether teachers were discussing the Bible in its historical and literary contexts or teaching it as a factual document. "There's a difference between teaching about religions in a historical context as opposed to the way it might be taught at Salpointe," Essigs said. "And that's fine for Salpointe. But they have an option of treating religion different than a public school would."
Proud said that's why her bill asks the State Board of Education to outline the requirements. The bill states pupils should learn about the contents of the Old and New Testaments, the literary style of both, as well as their influence on laws, history, government, literature, art, music and customs.
The bill states the course shall follow all federal and state guidelines maintaining religious neutrality. It also asks the attorney general to review the requirements.
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4243.