Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed a law on Tuesday that authorizes public schools to teach students about the Bible as a social studies elective.
Known as the “Bible Literacy Bill,” HB 128 allows teachers in Kentucky to teach students about “the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament, or a combination of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible.”
The course is required to “provide to students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy,” according to the legislation.
Local school boards are given the ability to choose to develop courses which will illustrate the Bible’s important role in American history. Students will be given the choice whether or not to take the class. The new law goes into effect on Friday.
“The idea that we would not want this to be an option for people in school, that would be crazy. I don’t know why every state would not embrace this, why we as a nation would not embrace this,” said Bevin just after the bill was signed. “You could be an atheist, and you would appreciate there’s a lot of wisdom in the Bible.” Bevin is himself a Christian.
State Republican Rep. D.J. Johnson, R-Owensboro, who sponsored the bill, pointed out the significance of the Bible’s impact on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and American law. “It really did set the foundation that our Founding Fathers used to develop documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights,” he said. “All of those came from principles from the Bible.”
The legislation sailed through the Kentucky House and Senate, but the American Civil Liberties Union expressed its concern.
“A Bible literacy bill that, on its face, may not appear to be unconstitutional, could in fact become unconstitutional in its implementation,” ACLU advocacy director Kate Miller told WDRB-TV. “We want to make sure that teachers can teach and make sure that they don’t go in to preach.”
The Kentucky Secular Society is worried that the new law will turn teachers into preachers. “This is an opportunity for teachers to preach religion in the classroom,” the group told NBC News. “If this course is really for literary purposes, it should include other mythologies and literatures that have impacted our culture as well.”
Supporters of the bill are telling critics that the state Department of Education will be helping schools develop the course to make sure that there are no “constitutional issues.”
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