Bill to allow nonsectarian study of the Bible passes state Senate
NASHVILLE (AP) — A proposal that would allow the state Department of Education to develop a curriculum for the academic study of the Bible in public schools unanimously passed the Senate, but its sponsor says it may be constitutionally vulnerable.
The legislation sponsored by Sen. Roy Herron, a Dresden Democrat and former minister, was approved on Wednesday.
The companion bill is waiting to be scheduled for a full vote on the House floor.
The bill would require school districts to teach the course with an approved textbook in a manner consistent with the state and federal constitutions.
However, Senate Education chairman Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, successfully amended the bill to remove language that the Bible course be “nonreligious and nonsectarian.”
Herron said he received a state attorney general’s opinion that said removing such a safeguard could make the legislation susceptible to a constitutional challenge.
“The original bill provided useful constitutional guidance and parameters to educators in a sensitive area of First Amendment rights,” the opinion said. “Without these guidelines, the likelihood that a Bible course would be taught in an unconstitutional manner … would increase significantly.”
Herron said the bill’s main intent is to allow schools to teach Bible courses without worrying about legal challenges, but the amendment changes that.
“The amendment reduces the likelihood that the legislation will achieve its purpose, which is to encourage the teaching of the Bible in public schools,” he said.
Read the full text of SB4104 on the General Assembly’s Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us
Published in The Messenger 5.8.08