A bill filed in the state Senate last week could allow Bible study courses to be taught in public high schools.
If passed, S.B. 138 will give the Scotland County’s school board the option of offering elective courses on the Old and New Testament to students in grades nine through 12. The bill would add a clause providing for Bible study courses to the N.C. General Statutes subsection on education.
The bill co-sponsored by state Sen. Gene McLaurin, who represents Scotland, Richmond, Anson, Stanly, and Rowan counties. The bill was proposed by Sen. Stan Bingham, a Davidson Republican.
“This is clearly being proposed as an elective and something that would be beneficial to students in terms of learning about values,” said McLaurin, a Democrat. “There are so many positive messages in the Bible about living by the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, the list goes on and on. I don’t see how this can be anything but beneficial to children and their families to be more exposed to the teachings of the Bible.”
No student would be required to take the courses, but the courses would provide academic credit toward graduation.
The study of other religious texts is not mentioned in the bill, and McLaurin said that incorporating contributions from other religious would be left to the discretion of individual school boards.
“We’re not trying to tell schools how they should develop this curriculum,” he said. “That would be up to them to make that decision, but the focus of the legislation is on the Holy Bible.”
Similar religious courses offered in taxpayer-supported schools in other parts of the country have raised concerns among civil libertarians about the Constitutional separation of church and state.
Bingham told the Associated Press that he had the same concerns initially, but he said he took the idea to the General Assembly’s Legislative Drafting Division after talking with a constituent about such a measure. Bingham said that since Bible study would be an elective course, it is not unconstitutional.
At least six other states already have laws similar to the one Bingham proposed on the books, including Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina.
Instruction may cover knowledge of biblical content that facilitates understanding of contemporary society and culture. Darrel Gibson, a member of the Scotland County Board of Education as well as pastor of Nazareth Missionary Baptist Church in Wagram, also spoke to the moralistic nature of the lessons in the biblical text.
“I think that, outside of theological truths, biblical studies also give some type of moral standards to students: how to carry themselves and just great information,” said Gibson. “Especially in our community, I think students could really benefit from biblical studies.”
In the event that the bill passes the state legislature, school staff will consider the addition of such a course at that time.
“Anything that we teach we teach typically though a historical perspective,” said Dr. Pamela Baldwin, Scotland County Schools Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. “We will look at all legislation that comes across our desk and make a decision that’s right for our students.”
The Senate bill comes at a time of diminished interest in Bible studies in the church setting, Gibson added.
“Bible study across the board - adults and youth - has become minimized,” he said. “People don’t study the way that they used to. Teachers will ensure that it isn’t just the traditional sit-down, it will be engaging and rigorous.”