Bill would create Bible study elective for high schools

Local school districts could offer an elective class studying the Old and New Testaments under a bill filed Tuesday by Sen. Stan Bingham.

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Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Students at public high schools would be able to take a Bible study elective under a bill filed Tuesday by Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson.

"Somebody locally called me about it," Bingham said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. More than anything else, he said, he wanted to open a discussion about the idea.

"(Religion) has always been something that you don't discuss with schools," he said.

As currently drafted, Senate Bill 32 allows local school boards to "offer to students in grades nine through 12 elective courses for credit on the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), the New Testament or a combination of the two subject matters."

The bill also specifies that the course would have to maintain "religious neutrality." Students could learn about the characters, poetry and content of the Bible as well as its "history, style, structure and societal influence."

Similar bills have raised objections in other states.

"It's very easy for teachers to cross the line and violate students' religious rights," Victoria Lopez, a program director with the Arizona office of the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Associated Press when a similar piece of legislation made its way into law in that state last year.

Sarah Preston, a lobbyist for the ACLU of North Carolina, said Wednesday that such bills were difficult to put in place without running afoul of First Amendment issues.

"It is of course constitutional and okay to teach about religion in an academic way," Preston said. "We'd suggest it be taught in the context of a comparative religion class." Such a class, she said, would look at and compare many different faith traditions. In a later e-mail, Preston wrote, "Because religious belief is such a personal issue, we believe it's a topic best left to the student's parents, and not government bureaucrats or school officials."

Asked if he thought there might be any problems with church-state separation issues, Bingham said he didn't know. "I wouldn't think so," he said.

Bingham said that, if his bill passes, it would likely be up to students and parents to ask a local school system to develop an elective. School systems would have the option of whether to implement the course or not.

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