FRANKFORT — One state senator cast a vote of "amen" Thursday when the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved a bill to give public schools guidelines for teaching the Bible as an elective social studies course.
Another senator, Elizabeth Tori, R-Radcliff, praised the Democratic sponsors of the bill, saying she believed """angels have sat down on your shoulders."""
But another warned that the state must proceed carefully with the bill and said teachers in public schools must be sure to teach, not preach, the Bible to students if the measure becomes law.
A large crowd made up mostly of students attended the committee meeting in which Democrats David Bos well of Owensboro and Julian Carroll of Frankfort presented Senate Bill 142.
Boswell, primary sponsor of the measure, said it would let the state Department of Education come up with regulations to guide public schools as they """teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture."""
Boswell said school-based decision-making councils would decide whether the course would be taught. He said it is needed to make children more aware of the role of the Bible in history, literature and culture.
Carroll said the bill is not creating """a faith-based course,""" but he contended that public schools have experienced problems such as shootings since the Bible was taken out of the classroom.
"""We took the Bible out of the school but we put nothing back,""" he said.
Carroll said the Bible can teach """life skills and values."""
Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, said he appreciated that Boswell presented the bill as a scholarly endeavor and not a religious experience.
But he said there are some """life skills""" in the Bible that society would not want to advocate. He mentioned """ruthless warriors""" and """multiple wives."""
Carroll said he think teachers in the state can adequately teach Bible literacy.
In voting for the bill, Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs, told Carroll that """preaching""" might help public schools.
Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, responded with an """amen""" during roll call but quickly added, """Yea."""
Boswell said he knows of no opposition to the bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration. However, Edwin F. Kagin of Union in Boone County, national legal director of American Atheists, said the bill """is an attempt to push the Christian religion, and it's extremely dangerous.
"""The 'amen' vote, the talk of angels on shoulders, show to me the hypocrisy with this,""" Kagin said in an interview.
Boswell maintained that the bill, modeled on a Texas law, is constitutional.
Michael Aldridge, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said the bill doesn't appear to be unconstitutional, """but it opens up the back door to curricula that is unconstitutional.
"""We would be watching the implications of it if it becomes law,""" he said.
Boswell said he expects that supporters of other religions might want their texts taught in public schools. """I decided to go with the Bible because it has played such a major role in our country,""" he said.
Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, had prepared an amendment to the bill that would allow the teaching of other religious texts, but he did not present it.