Texas House OKs Elective Courses on the Bible in Public Schools

Texas schools would be able to offer elective courses on the Bible under legislation tentatively adopted Tuesday in the House.

The measure, which was approved by a voice vote, was a watered-down version of Republican Rep. Warren Chisum's original proposal. That plan would have required Bible courses to be taught as an elective in all Texas high schools rather than making it optional.

The House is expected to give final approval to the measure Wednesday. It then moves to the Senate for consideration.

The class would focus on the history and literature of the Bible, rather than proselytizing, Chisum said.

According to a legislative analysis of the measure, "the purpose of the course would be to teach students biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy."

A study by the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network last year identified 25 high schools in the state already offering such courses and said that many have serious problems.

Kathy Miller, the group's president, applauded the House for including safeguards, such as teacher training requirements.

"Public schools are not Sunday schools, and most people get nervous when government gets too involved in religion," Miller said. "The safeguards in this bill protect the right of families and clergy, not the government, to tell our schoolchildren what to believe about the Bible."

The bill also requires curriculum standards and a textbook other than the Bible.

The classes would be offered starting the fall semester of 2009.

Two literature classes on the Bible are included on a list of state-approved courses that Georgia public schools could choose to offer beginning next year. Some critics say it would be the first state to take an explicit stance endorsing and funding biblical teachings.