Bill allowing Bible literacy classes in public schools approved by state Senate committee


File photo of a Bible.
File photo of a Bible.

Bible literacy classes could be taught in Kentucky public schools as a social studies elective under legislation approved by a state Senate committee.

Senate Bill 278, sponsored by State Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, was unanimously approved Thursday by the Senate Education Committee.

The legislation might raise questions about the separation of church and state. Webb said the bill “passes constitutional muster.” She said she practiced constitutional law for 30 years.

“This bill would not have a religious connotation as much as a historical connotation,” she said.

She said she had taken a “Bible as literature” course when she attended East Carter High School.

According to the bill, students would learn biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives “that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy.”

The course would have to follow federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views of students in the school, according to the legislation. Regulations for the course developed by the Kentucky Board of Education could not violate any provision of the federal or state constitution or laws.

School-based decision-making councils would decide whether to offer such courses if the bill is approved.

Former state Sen. Jack Westwood, now a policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, testified on behalf of the bill.

Senate Bill 278 would not result in instructors teaching the Bible, Westwood said.

A former English teacher, Westwood said students needed to know how the Bible influences culture. Webb said the Bible is the cornerstone of literature.

Democrats and Republicans on the committee praised the bill Thursday, including chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington.

However, the Kentucky ACLU advised caution Friday.

William E. Sharp, ACLU of Kentucky Legal Director, said in a statement Friday that the organization urges legislators to consider how such courses are likely to be implemented throughout the commonwealth.

“Although there certainly are acceptable ways to teach about the Bible to public school students — such as teaching comparative religion classes or about the Bible’s relationship to literature, art or music — the fact remains that it is difficult, in practice, to do so in a constitutionally permissible manner,” Sharp said. “Moreover, the ACLU of Kentucky maintains that parents and religious leaders, not government employees, should teach religious beliefs to children.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears