Alabama senator prefiles bill to allow elective Bible classes in public schools
Public school students in Alabama could soon be allowed to study the Bible as an official elective class offering.
Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence) has prefiled legislation that would allow the Bible to be taught as an elective for grades six to twelve and require the State Board of Education to adopt rules and policies to implement it.
The prefiled bill has been designated as SB 14 for the upcoming regular session of the Alabama legislature, which begins March 5. SB 14 will be officially referred to the Senate’s committee on education policy when the session convenes.
Melson told ABC 33/40 he is carrying the bill because teachers in his district want to teach the Bible, but do not feel comfortable doing so without a law on the books. He advised that his bill is modeled after a similar law in Kentucky.
While having the sponsor vocally pushing the bill will be important to it having a chance to pass, SB 14 has already picked up two of the most powerful state legislators as supporters.
“If students choose to study Biblical literacy as an elective in school, then there is no reason why that should not be allowed,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said in a statement. “This bill simply allows students to study artifacts, monuments, symbols, and text related to the study of the Bible.”
This came after President Donald Trump earlier this week tweeted support for states offering Bible literacy classes in public schools.
Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2019
“I applaud Senator Melson for sponsoring this bill and I thank President Trump for bringing this issue to national attention,” Marsh added. “I look forward to working on the passage of this bill in the upcoming session.”
In addition to Marsh’s strong words of support, state Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills), the chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, also told ABC 33/40 he supports SB 14, as long as it is an elective class.
Additionally, Waggoner wants local school districts to have the final say in if they offer it.
However, the bill is already being attacked by some of the usual suspects.
The Alabama chapter of the ACLU said the bill has “no useful purpose and is an invitation to lure school districts into a false sense of security to take unconstitutional actions.”
According to ABC 33/40, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State has also already voiced opposition against the proposal.
“There is a difference between teaching about religion and preaching religion – and make no mistake, these classes are set up with the intent to proselytize students and promote one set of religious beliefs over all others,” said Rachel Laser, the organization’s President and CEO.
“These legislators are turning our public schools into places where too many kids will feel like they don’t belong,” Laser continued. “They are also violating the rights of parents to decide what religion, if any, to teach their children.”
To be clear, offering the classes on an elective basis would give the parents the right to decide if their children take them.
While there will almost assuredly be interest groups lined up to oppose the bill, it is expected to garner a bevy of supporting organizations in the state as well.
Count Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) as one of those ardent supporters right off the bat. ALCAP executive director Dr. Joe Godfrey called SB 14 an excellent idea.
“In the early 60’s, we took Bible reading and prayer out of schools and I think we see the result of that in the increase in violence and other problems within the schools,” Godfrey advised.
He also said he wants details about the curriculum and guidelines that would be used. But overall, Godfrey expects that he will encourage legislators to support Melson’s bill.
“Our culture is founded on biblical principals,” Godfrey said. “A lot of people don’t realize that. But our founding fathers relied heavily on the Bible.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn