An Arizona bill that creates a high school course for public and charter school students that teaches the Bible and its role in Western culture is now law.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Tuesday that requires the state Board of Education to design a high school elective course titled "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," which would include lessons on the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, government and culture, among other aspects of society.
The state Senate approved House Bill 2563 last Thursday with a vote of 21-9. It was approved by the House in February.
Arizona becomes the sixth state to allow districts to offer a high school elective Bible course. Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina are currently the only ones with laws permitting these courses. Other states like Kentucky have introduced similar proposals, but the bills have failed to become law.
The Arizona course must follow state and federal laws in maintaining religious neutrality, and credits from the course would count toward student graduation. Students are also not to be required to use a specific version of the Bible. Republican state Rep. Terri Proud, who sponsored the bill, said the proposals are written in a way that make it clear that teachers can teach the Bible "in a very restricted way."
Proud says students would benefit from learning about the Bible as foundational, basic knowledge. Arizona state law doesn't ban the use of the Bible or other religious texts in the classroom as long as it is being used for academic purposes without intent on religious indoctrination.
"It is everywhere around us, and to say that I don't want my child exposed to that, then we might as well not have air and breathe because it is implemented into our society," Proud previously told MyFox Phoenix.
Critics were troubled by the curriculum, arguing that teaching religion and the Bible is tricky -- and teachers are often not sufficiently or properly trained to teach the subject effectively.
The curriculum also excludes other denominational materials like the Book of Mormon, Jewish and Hindu texts and the Quran. But Proud told the Arizona Daily Star in January that those additions aren't necessary.
"The Quran hasn't influenced Western culture the way the Bible has," she said, adding that students already learn about ancient religions like Greek and Roman gods in their coursework.
HB 2563 is one of two coursework-related proposals by Proud. HB 2473, which is still in the House, would allow high schools to offer an elective course on the "critical evaluation and examination of the Bible as a literary work" beginning June 30, 2013.
Brewer's move on Tuesday comes nearly two years after she signed a separate measure that axed a Tucson school district's ethnic studies program, which offered special courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that focus on the history, literature and influence of those ethnic groups.
The measure was pushed forward by then-schools chief Tom Horne, who at the time said that the Mexican-American studies program taught Latino students that whites are their historic oppressors, adding that public schools should not encourage students to resent a particular race.
The ban in what protestors have called "ethnic cleansing" has drawn ire from the community and criticism from across the country. Despite widespread protests, the Tucson Unified School District voted last week not to renew the contract of Sean Arce, director of the district's now dismantled Mexican-American studies program.