There was a push in the last legislative session to establish a
high school Bible literature course for schools across the state and
although the proposed bill floundered, educators say a Bible
literature course could work, if done properly.
The bill, which was killed by a republican filibuster in the state
House of Representatives, would have created an elective high school
course based on the book "The Bible and Its Influence." The decision
whether or not to offer the course would be up to the various local
boards of education, which would also have the option of adopting
other "non-devotional" texts. The bill also provided for funds to
purchase the textbooks.
An amendment to the doomed bill also provided "proper teacher
training and teacher guides. The teacher training shall have direct
instruction on issues regarding teaching and learning,
proselytizing, respect for other faiths and denominations, and what
is permitted for Bible course in public schoolÖin the opinions of
the United States Supreme Court."
Much of the Republican opposition to the bill centered on the
legislature recommending a specific textbook that had not been
approved by the state Board of Educationís Textbook Committee.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton also saw this as a
problem. "I think itís a fine idea, and there are some public
schools in Alabama that do have Bible literacy courses without any
problem or controversy. We didnít do a full survey, but I know there
are several schools in Huntsville offering those classes, and in
other places around the state and around the country. I think the
problem was it prescribed a particular textbook outside the process
of the state Text Book Committee, and not under the guidelines for
state textbook adoption. You also have to be careful about naming a
particular publisher that you donít violate the state bid law."
But Morton added he had no problem with the concept. "As I said,
this exists already at some schools, and I think it is clearly
allowable as long you donít proselytize. There are plenty of ways to
do it without objection, say as a survey of religion in America or
as literature. There are numerous ways you can teach the Bible as
long as itís not evangelical in nature. And making the course an
elective is another key. If you required every student to take it,
you would be crossing a boundary of law."
Already in school
Gayle Jones, public information officer for Talladega County
schools, said school systems already touch on religions in studies.
"Not from a religious perspective," Jones said, "but from a
historical or great-work-of-literature perspective."
Dr. Jane Cobia, superintendent of Sylacauga City schools agreed,
saying the 23rd Psalm is covered in 10th through 12th-grade
"Itís not taught as a religion but as literature," Cobia said.
Current studies, Jones said, include many religions, not just
Christianity, providing insight for students into world religions
and philosophies, which helped shape different cultures and
societies of the past and present.
Dr. Bobby Hathcock, superintendent of Pell City schools, said
guidelines for any new course requirement would come from the
Alabama State Board of Education or legislators themselves.
"Weíre going to do what the state Board of Education and the
legislators tell us," Hathcock said, adding that he doesnít have
enough information about what a high school Bible course would
He said a Bible course could be incorporated in a literature course
or even offered as an elective course.
"They could do it several ways," Hathcock said. "The key thing would
be how itís handled, guidelines you would go by."
Jones said school systems would receive guidance from the Alabama
State Board of Education for any new school courses.
"Weíre never given anything from the board of education that we
arenít also given guidelines," Jones said, adding "We have to be
very careful we adhere to the course study."
Lee Messer, superintendent of Talladega City schools, said there is
a fine line between teaching religion and teaching religion as a
literature or history course, but it can be done.
"Frankly, I see no major problem with it," Messer said.
He said it would be of utmost importance that the course does not
cross the line into religion, but that it focuses on literature
style or the historical aspect of the Bible.
"There is a very thin line," Messer said, adding that in some
communities throughout the state, there is a diversity of people and
Educators believe a Bible literature class would have an approved
textbook for students to use in such a course.
Messer said it would be important to determine the best textbook for
the school system, saying the textbook would need to be on middle
"Each school system has a textbook committee which would determine
the textbook for the course," Jones said.
She said the textbook committeeís recommendation would go before the
school board of education for final approval.
If legislators decide to revisit the issue of a Bible literature
class for high school students, Cobia hopes funding will accompany
any requirements for a new high school course.
"I would hope there would be funding, at least enough funding to
cover the textbooks," she said.
Messer said he believes there would be interest among high school
students for a new Bible literature course.
"I would suspect you would have a lot of kids signing up for it," he
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