CHARLESTON — Although taking no action Thursday, members of the Senate Committee on Education discussed at length a bill that seeks to require schools to provide elective courses on religious texts.
Senate Bill 252, sponsored by Sens. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, and Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, seeks to require all schools to provide an elective social studies course on Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament or New Testament of the Bible and require that federal and state laws be followed regarding religious neutrality.
The purpose of the course is to teach students about biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives, which it says are pre-requisites to understanding contemporary society and culture including literature, art, music, morals and public policy.
Counsel presented the committee substitute with the addition that these courses would be offered in grades 9 and above.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said although he is a Christian, he is concerned that people with different religious views would leave out.
“Can we singularly teach one particular religion? Even though Hebrew Scriptures are part of the Bible, we are really only teaching Christian texts,” Romano said. “I'm fine with that. I'm a Christian but I'm just wondering if we have to leave this open to teach other religions.”
Azinger said the bill is modeled after a bill passed recently in Kentucky.
“The reason it's the Bible only is because America was essentially founded on the Bible,” he said. “It was integral to our founding.”
Romano said he agrees, but added he worries about favoring Christianity in public schools.
“My only point is the founding fathers, if you believe they were favoring the Christian faith, they could have just said that. They also could have said they favored the Church of England or could have said Presbyterian but they didn't. They said no religion.”
Azinger took issue with Romano, saying the bill isn't about religion.
“We're not talking about religion,” Azinger responded. “We are talking about the Bible.”
Azinger argued the Bible once was central to public schools.
“The Bible was the central book for 350 years. And what country did it create? It created the greatest country in the world. Western Civilization has become a beacon on the hill. Then, suddenly, you take it out and you have to admit, Senator, that there has been a dramatic cause and effect in social ills since we did,” Azinger said.
Romano asked if a different religious text could be taught to accomplish the same goals. Azinger said no.
Sen. Mark Drennan, R-Putnam, asked if schools were able to do this now or if they are forbidden from doing so. Angela Mann, a principal at Peterstown Middle School said it is not.
“We have the Gideons come in and we give students that option,” she said. “We can't force them to take the class but we do have the power to provide that elective. The problem is in West Virginia, we don't have the money to provide barely any electives besides what is required.”
Azinger said he believes having the course on the Bible could lend moral clarity.
“We live in an age of confusion in a lot of areas,” he said. “People are sexually confused, confused about absolutes. This is a humanistic era where truth is relative. It causes a lot of confusion and a lot of problems. One thing the Bible does is it brings moral clarity.”
Mann said as a principal, her concern is separation of church and state.
“The country was founded on religious freedom, as well,” she said.
A similar bill was introduced last session by Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, to make available elective courses on the history of the old and new testaments of the Bible. The bill died in House Education.
A Wisconsin-based group, Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., filed a lawsuit last year seeking to end a Bible in the Schools program in Mercer County. The group said the program violates the First Amendment.
According to previous reports, Mercer County in April ended employment of all Bible in the Schools Teachers. The following month, the Board of Education voted to suspend the program for at least a year to ensure review and modification of the program. Classes were offered as electives at Bluefield and PikeView high schools.
The federal lawsuit challenging the program was dismissed in November based on suspension of the program. The ruling left open an injunction if the program were reinstated in the future and found to violate constitutional law.
The Register Harald
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