Legislation directing Arizona's Board of Education to design a Bible course that schools could offer as an elective has been signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
Republican Rep. Terri Proud of Tucson is the bill's sponsor. Proud recently made national headlines by allegedly writing an email to a constituent where she opined that she would like to see a law requiring women seeking abortions to witness an abortion being performed.
The Huffington Post quotes Proud as remarking, "There are people out there who hate the Bible and everything about it. That's fine, but don't deprive our children of biblical literature because of your personal feelings."
H.B. 2563 authorizes the course, "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," and mandates that the course not conflict with the First Amendment of the federal constitution:
Sec. 3. Section 15-535, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended to read:
15-535. Sectarian instruction prohibited
A teacher who uses sectarian or denominational books or teaches any sectarian doctrine or conducts any religious exercises in school is guilty of unprofessional conduct and his certificate shall be revoked. this section shall not be construed to prohibit a teacher from teaching the elective course permitted by section 15‑717.01.
Sec. 4. Title 15, chapter 7, article 1, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended by adding section 15-717.01, to read:
15-717.01. Bible influence; elective course; requirements; immunity
A. The state board of education shall include in history or English arts standards, or both, concepts that include:
1. The history and literature of the old testament era.
2. The history and literature of the new testament era.
B. The standards adopted pursuant to subsection A of this section shall not require that pupils who do not enroll in the elective course prescribed in this section receive instruction on the historical study of biblical text.
C. A school district or charter school may offer an elective course pertaining to how the bible has influenced western culture for pupils in grades nine through twelve. A school may offer this course as an online course. A school district or charter school may develop a new curriculum or use an existing curriculum that includes teacher's guides and that is currently in use in public schools in this state or in other states. An existing curriculum that is used by a school district or charter school shall meet the standards and guidelines prescribed in this section.
D. Before a school offers a course under this section, a legal review shall be conducted to ensure that the course complies with the first amendment to the United States Constitution.
E. A course offered under this section shall be designed to:
1. Familiarize pupils with the contents, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy.
2. Familiarize pupils with the following:
(a) The contents of the old testament and the new testament.
(b) The history recorded by the old testament and the new testament.
(c) The literary style and structure of the old testament and the new testament.
(d) The influence of the old testament and the new testament on laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.
F. A course offered under this section shall follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious or nonreligious views, traditions and perspectives of pupils. This section is not intended to violate any provision of the United States Constitution, the Constitution of Arizona or state law or any rules, guidelines or regulations adopted by the United States department of education, the state board of education or the Arizona department of education.
G. A pupil shall not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text of the old testament or the new testament and may use as the basic textbook a different translation of the old testament or the new testament from that chosen by the school district governing board, the charter school governing body or the pupil's teacher.
H. Personnel shall not be assigned to teach a course offered under this section based on any of the following:
1. A religious or nonreligious test.
2. A profession of faith or lack of faith.
3. Prior or current religious affiliation or a lack of religious affiliation.
I. A teacher who instructs a course offered under this section in its appropriate historical context and in good faith shall be immune from civil liability and DISCIPLINARY action pursuant to section 15‑535.