West Virginia bill would require all schools to offer a Bible class

Two West Virginia senators introduce a bill that would require all schools to provide an elective course on Hebrew scriptures and the Old or New testaments of the Bible. (Photo: James Nichols)

A bill has been introduced by West Virginia senators that, if passed, would require all schools to provide an elective course on Hebrew scriptures and the Old or New Testaments of the Bible.

It's called Senate Bill 252 and was introduced by Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, and Sen. Sue Cline-R-Wyoming.

They said the bill's purpose is to teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are pre-requisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.

Under the proposed bill, a student “may not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament and may use as the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament from that chosen by the county board or school.”

The state Department of Education would include the course standards in the program of students for West Virginia schools, including the teacher qualifications and required professional development.

It also stipulates that the course offered would follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions and perspectives of students in the school.

“A course under this section may not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective,” the bill states. “The state Board of Education, in complying with this section, shall not violate any provision of the United States Constitution or federal law, the West Virginia Constitution or any state law, or any administrative regulations of the United States Department of Education or the State Department of Education.”

Bible classes have been an issue in West Virginia previously.

In November, a judge dismissed a federal lawsuit against a West Virginia public school system over its 75-year practice of putting children in Bible classes, The Associated Press said.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported the court's ruling was based on Mercer County's decision in May to suspend its Bible in the Schools program.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. filed suit in January on behalf of two parents of children who either attended or would attend Mercer County schools. The lawsuit alleged the Bible in Schools program improperly entangled public schools into religious affairs.

The school district had argued that the courses were voluntary electives, but the board of education voted in May to suspend the program so it could be reviewed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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