Lawmakers at the Iowa Statehouse have introduced a bill that would allow schools to offer an elective course on the Bible.
House File 2031, introduced by state Rep. Dean Fisher and 11 other Republicans last week, would allow school districts in Iowa to offer a course that "provide students with knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture."
The measure would direct the state Department of Education to prepare material and teacher training for a high school course that would focus on the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.
"Basically, I want to give students the opportunity to study the Bible from the perspective of its impact on history and culture," Fisher said, as reported by Des Moines Register.
Supporters of the bill have contended that studying the Bible for its historical and cultural influence would help students understand western civilization and the values on which America was built.
"Beyond its literary and cultural significance, which is significant, the Bible is also an essential thread of the American consciousness, and without it, American unity is unraveling," Drew Zahn, spokesman for The Family Leader, which is endorsing the bill.
Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp noted that the current law does not prohibit schools from teaching an elective class that studies the literature, history, or art of a particular religion.
Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said that the legislation is "unnecessary," noting that some high schools in the state are already offering world religion courses, or teach aspects of Judaism or Christianity as part of their social studies courses.
"It's an extreme piece of legislation, and I would hope that it would not move any further," she said.
The legislation states that the course would not endorse, favor or promote any religion, faith or nonreligious perspective and it would focus instead on the Bible's influence. The measure would not require students to use a specific translation of the Bible and it would allow them to use a version other than the one chosen by the teacher, school, district or state.
Under the proposal, schools are not required to offer the course, but material and training will be provided by the state to schools that choose to include it.
According to Des Moines Register, current Iowa law states that religious texts may not be excluded from any public school and it also states should not require students to read religious texts that parents do not want them to read.