Kentucky lawmakers believe that students in public schools should be offered Bible classes to help them to better understand the cultural and historical development of the United States.
The proposed bill has passed in the Kentucky Senate before but was stopped in the house of representatives. Now that congress is Republican-controlled, it is likely to become Kentucky law.
The theory is that Bible classes, covering both the Old and New Testaments, will help students to better understand historical events, such as the civil rights movement, the founding of the U.S., and the Protestant Reformation. The classes will be offered as electives under the social studies category.
The bill does not require schools to use a specified translation of the Bible, nonetheless, it does state that the classes must be taught in a neutral manner. The Bible will be used as a history book, not to favor or dismiss any religion.
The Kentucky Department of Education must determine teacher requirements and course development, should the bill become a law. There is another measure, supported by the Senate Education Committee, that will require students pass a civics test to graduate high school. This exam will be similar to the one immigrants must take to become U.S. citizens.
Christian organizations in the state are concerned this law will impede on religious freedoms. President of the Kentucky Council of Churches Kent Gilbert stated:
This bill appears to privilege two religious traditions and makes no provision for the other religious traditions of the Commonwealth that have also influenced world culture, literature and areas of the social sciences.
On Feb. 23, 2017, after much debate, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 128 (HB 128), with an 80-14 vote. This is the legislation that will provide the regulations for Kentucky public schools that offer Bible classes as social studies electives.
It was argued by Rep. DJ Johnson, R-Owensboro, the sponsor of HB 128, that:
The Bible is the single most impactful literary work that we have in Western civilization. It affects our culture, our values, our laws.
Democrat Jim Wayne stated that the state constitution prevented people from talking about their religion in public schools. He claimed this should remain a “neutral zone.” Other members of the Kentucky House of Representatives felt the class would create “better citizens.”
The concern with the legislation is that school districts will be liable if the teachers use the Bible classes as anything other than to teach history. On Feb. 24, lawmakers posted on Facebook that if the bill becomes a law, they will ensure that parents and students clearly understand their rights under the state and U.S. Constitution.
Offering to teach one religion, over any other, in public schools will unlikely pass if challenged in court. If the class compared religions and the impact they have had on U.S. culture and history, it may be more widely accepted.
Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington carried the majority with his viewpoint: “Well, let me tell you what didn’t get it done: Kicking God out of school, kicking the Bible out of school, kicking prayer out of school. [This country] was founded as a Christian nation.”
The legislation must now pass in the Kentucky Senate. The Senate Bill 138 is sponsored by Robin Webb, Danny Carroll, C.B. Embry Jr., Stephen Meredith, Whitney Westerfield, and Mike Wilson. It was read a second time, in the senate, on Feb. 17 and is still being discussed.
By Jeanette Smith
US News: Kentucky Considering Mandatory Bible Classes
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Peacock Panache: Kentucky: GOP Pushing Bill to Force Bible Study into Schools
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