A bill that would allow public schools to incorporate the Bible as an elective has been introduced in the Legislature by State Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence.
Senate Bill 391 would give public schools the option of teaching the Bible as literature or history to 6-12 grade students.
According to Melson's bill, the courses would teach students about Bible characters, poetry and narratives that are useful for understanding history and contemporary society and culture, including art music, social mores, oration and public policy.
Additionally, the bill would allow schools to display artifacts, monuments, symbols and texts related to the study of the Bible if displaying these items is appropriate to the course.
If passed, the bill calls for the State Board of Education to adopt rules and policies to implement the requirements of the bill.
Trey Holladay, superintendent of Athens City Schools, said he wouldn't have any objections if the school board wanted to adopt the Bible elective outlined in Melson's bill, saying that its incorporation into the curriculum would be based on student demand and teacher availability.
He does, however, have some reservations about the bill based on the diverse religious make up of Athen's public schools.
“Because its an elective, I don't think it would create conflict,” he said. “But I think the potential is there. You have people who get very jealous about what they believe in and push their beliefs on others, and I can see that potentially creating a conflict.”
Melson's bill contains language that would prevent a scenario where a teacher could proselytize a student. Teachers of an elective Bible course may not endorse, favor, promote, disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religious or nonreligious perspective, according to the bill.
It also calls for instructors to accommodate diverse religious views and maintain religious neutrality.
“Definitely the majority of our staff, myself include, are Christians, but because we work for the public school system, we support our individual students' rights on how they address God and their specific religious beliefs.”
If there is a call for the elective Bible courses, Holladay said the district would wait until the State Board of Education develops guidelines for the Bible-based classes before incorporating them into the city school's curriculum.
He questions whether there would be enough interest in the elective courses.
“Most of the time parents prefer to be able to teach that themselves so that they can give their specific view of how those things should be,” he said.
“We are fine with offering our kids what they want and parents what they want, but we don't want to create controversy in the community,” Holladay said. “If it's going to cause problems or controversy, then why even broach it?”
Superintendent of Limestone County Schools, Dr. Tom Sisk, said he was unfamiliar with the bill and, therefore, wasn't ready to comment on how the bill might affect his district if it passed.