DES MOINES — State officials would be required to draw up standards for high school courses on the Bible if a bill that has cleared a House subcommittee becomes law.
The bill’s backers say an elective course on “the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament of the Bible” will help students better understand politics, society and culture. Chuck Hurley is vice president of The Family Leader, a Christian evangelical organization that supports the bill.
“Biblical principles helped lead to the unalienable rights that we ensconced in our Constitution,” Hurley says. “For students not to be aware of that background would be, in my opinion, educational negligence.”
Opponents of the bill say some educators might use the course to preach rather than teach and they fault the bill for picking one religious tradition to the exclusion of all others. Daniel Zeno, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, says a third of Iowa schools are already offering courses about religion.
“As long as they are academic courses, we don’t think there’s any problem,” Zeno says. “…There are ways that school districts can do this right now without singling out the Bible.”
The bill has cleared a three-member House panel and is now eligible for debate in a full House committee. If the bill becomes law, Iowa school districts would not be forced, but could choose to offer a Bible literacy course. At least seven other states let local school boards choose to offer a Bible literacy course as part of the social studies curriculum.