Ga. governor authorizes funding for Bible classes in public high schools
ATLANTA (BP)--Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation April 20 authorizing public high schools in the state to offer courses in the history and literature of the Bible, provided the courses are taught “in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students.”
Georgia becomes the first state to offer elective Bible classes on a statewide basis, education experts believe, though numerous school districts throughout the country have chosen independently to teach such courses.
Perdue, a Republican who attends First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., also signed a measure permitting the display of the Ten Commandments at courthouses in the state.
“Gov. Perdue signed these bills into law today because the Bible is one of the original textbooks in the history of human existence,” Heather Hedrick, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “It’s an acknowledgment of the importance of these two documents as historical documents.”
Local school systems will determine whether to teach the Bible classes, and the state’s department of education has until February to write the curriculum, according to the Associated Press.
The Bible itself will be the primary textbook, according to the legislation.
Senate Democrats first introduced a bill authorizing Bible classes, saying that understanding the Bible and its teachings is crucial to understanding American politics, history, literature and art, AP said, but Republicans took advantage of their House and Senate majorities and gave their own version of the bill, which passed the Senate 45-2 and the House 151-7 in March.
Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams said the curriculum will help students understand the Bible's many cultural influences.
“Kids are illiterate of the Bible,” Williams told The New York Times. “They don't understand the text and how it affects government or history. If we're teaching a kid what the Good Samaritan law was about, they wouldn't know.”
The Bible, he added, is “a very interesting book, by the way.”
“Are we to say that the world’s best seller, a book that has influenced Western culture more than any other, is off limits to kids?” Williams told Reuters news service.
“The Bible is just so much a part of our culture that I think it should be taught, but not to indoctrinate,” he said.
The bill garnered strong support from the Christian Coalition of Georgia, with chairwoman Sadie Fields telling The Times that the Bible courses are “another way to help students think critically.”
Critics of the new law include some teachers who say it puts them in a bind when determining how to treat the Bible.
“It’s just another instance where the cultural wars are going to be fought in our classrooms,” Tim Callahan, a spokesperson for the 65,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators, told AP. “Teachers are going to feel themselves pressured to teach Bible almost like Sunday School, and that’s where the tightrope walking is going to come into it.”
Maggie Garrett, legislative counsel with the Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, told AP her group is waiting to see what curriculum is developed and how it is taught in the classroom. If they deem it unconstitutional, she said the ACLU will challenge the law in court.
The Campaign to Defend the Constitution, an online grassroots movement aimed at combating the influence of the “religious right” on democracy, sent more than 12,000 e-mails to Perdue, asking him not to sign the bill.
They characterized the defeat as a reinforcement of their complaint.
“The Georgia government has declared war on the Constitution,” Jessica Smith, director of DefCon, said in a statement. “Bibles in schools and Ten Commandments in courthouses are only the most recent steps taken by a government which accepts the will of the religious right above the founding principles of our nation.”