The state House voted 42-15 Tuesday to allow high schools to teach elective courses on the influence of the Bible on Western culture and civilization.
Tuesday's vote came over the objections of House Minority Leader Chad Campbell. The Phoenix Democrat said limiting schools to using the Old and New Testaments "is going to run into a constitutional challenge."
But Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, who crafted HB 2563, said she does not see a problem. She said the language allowing the use of the texts for non-religious purposes has been approved by others.
Proud did agree to several last-minute changes, including one that requires the courses to accommodate not only diverse religious views but also non-religious views. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Nothing in the legislation requires schools to offer the courses. And Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said they are not designed to teach religion.
"This bill is a cultural exploration of how the Bible, as a teaching instrument, will aid in understanding the development of our country," she said. "It is simply a historical, cultural document to be used if a school district adopts this course of study."
Campbell said that may all be true. And he said schools can teach the effect of religion and texts on culture.
But he said lawmakers cannot pick and choose which ones they want to teach.
Campbell attempted to ask Proud during the floor debate why she chose only these religious documents and not others. But she refused to answer his questions.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, pointed out he represents a district that includes the Yaqui and Gila River communities.
"I would hope that we would also have respect for their religions," he said.
Before approving the bill, lawmakers specifically rejected a proposal by Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, to add the Book of Mormon and two other texts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the materials permitted.
"I have a young girl and at some point she will be enrolling in schools across Arizona," Ableser said. "And I hope someday she'll be able to take classes, not only on the Bible and the importance of the Bible in Western culture, but also about three other texts I greatly respect and honor."
Aside from the Book of Mormon, that includes the Doctrine and Covenants as well as the Pearl of Great Price.
Ableser said the LDS Church and founder Joseph Smith both had an effect in American culture and history.
"Many children have a right to learn about that as well, and receive (academic) credit," he said.
But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it would be wrong to say that LDS members like himself, who refused to support Ableser's efforts to add Mormon texts but voted to allow Old and New Testament studies, were more interested in supporting a Republican bill than in their religion.
"I will break with my caucus to vote for or against things that I agree or disagree with," Farnsworth said. "This is no different," he added, saying he supports legislation if he believes it contains good policies.
The legislation specifically allows courses that teach students:
- The contents of the Old and New Testaments.
- History recorded by both books.
- Literary style and structure of the books.
- Influence of the books on laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.