A plan to require public schools to teach classes with the Bible as a textbook was changed by a Texas legislative panel to make such classes optional instead.

The House Public Education Committee approved the modified bill Thursday, drawing praise from critics who feared mandatory Bible courses would be more religious than academic.

"I think the committee got the message that families and churches don't want the government to tell our children what to believe about the Bible," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.

The original bill by Republican state Rep. Warren Chisum would have required schools to offer Bible courses as an elective. He argued the Bible would be used for its historical value.

About two dozen Texas high schools already offer Bible courses as electives. Supporters said the legislation would make schools more confident about offering them.