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Panel approves Bible classes for public schools

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‘Angel sent down’ to put Bible on Kentucky school curriculum, legislator says

A Kentucky state Senate committee has approved legislation allowing the Bible to be studied as a literary subject in public schools, a move that means the state will likely follow Tennessee, Texas and a handful of others in bringing the Christian text into the curriculum.

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The bill, put forward by three Democratic state senators, orders the Kentucky Board of Education to draw up guidelines for teaching the Bible as a literary work in the context of “literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy,” reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Bible courses would be elective.

The bill passed the committee 12-0, and is expected to sail smoothly through the legislature. “It’s the kind of legislation that most Kentucky lawmakers dare not vote against, especially in an election year,” reports the Associated Press.

In praising the legislation, state Sen. Elizabeth Tori told the bill’s sponsors that “an angel was sent down on your shoulders” prompting “you to put this bill together,” as quoted at the Courier-Journal.

“I‘ve said for many years that until we put God back into our households, things in society will not change for the better,” Tori said.

“So our politicians believe in imaginary cherubs from the sky dropping down to suggest legislation. Alert the writers at the Jon Stewart show,” writes Rick Redding at the Louisville Mojo blog. “Sorry, Ms. Tori, but there are schools you can send your kids to if you want a religious education. Those aren’t the ones funded by taxpayers.”

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But the bill’s sponsors insist the new law wouldn’t amount to religious indoctrination and steers clear of violating the principle of separation of church and state.

“There are so many aspects in the scripture relevant to literature — it’s relevant to art, to music, to social issues as well,” Democratic state Sen. David Boswell, the bill’s chief sponsor, told ABC affiliate WTVQ. “I know of no other book out there with the thousands of years of documentation on all of these social issues that can be used for instructional purposes.”

The American Civil Liberties Union says that, while the bill doesn’t appear to be unconstitutional, it will likely lead to abuses that will violate students’ rights.

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“It’s not clearly unconstitutional on its face, but it will likely lead to a host of unconstitutional actions by school boards,” ACLU of Kentucky executive director Michael Aldridge told AP. “It’s obviously kind of a backdoor means to open the door to teach unconstitutional Bible courses in public schools.”

The national legal director of American Atheists told WTVQ that he views the proposed law as unconstitutional.

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“Nowhere does this book or this course intend to say these are mythological stories. They are presented as fact and they are presented as true history,” Edward Kagin said. “I would readily support a bill to teach comparative religion, but I am opposed to teaching essentially the Christian religion.”

Late last month, Tennessee’s state board of education approved guidelines for a secular Bible course, which will be taught starting this fall as “part of a secular curriculum.”

Texas has had a similar law on the books since 2007, and as of this fall, offering the class will be mandatory in Texas school districts.

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