Iowa Lawmakers Consider Bible Class in Public Schools | faith and values

Erin Murphy Gazette Bureau Des Moines

DES MOINES — A bill is moving through the Iowa House that would require the state Board of Education to adopt standards for a public high school course on the Bible.

The measure, advanced Wednesday by two House Republicans, would give schools the option of offering the classroom as a social studies option.

The legislation does not oblige schools to offer the course and does not include other religious texts.

Iowa Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, noted that the course could only be offered after it was approved by the district school board and the district improvement advisory committee.

Taylor said the bill focuses on the Bible because of Christianity’s influence on US history.

“Why the Bible? It has a disproportionate influence on American history and culture,” he said. “…It’s like that, good or bad, like it or not. Culturally speaking, there is no comparison.

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Taylor said he does not oppose — and the bill does not restrict — any instruction about other religions, adding that he would welcome more religious education in schools.

“I don’t think it’s excessive,” he said.

Iowa school board and teacher lobbyists are on record, contrary to Senate Docket 2136, saying they believe it is up to state lawmakers to direct the school curriculum. They also noted that many schools already offer courses on world religions.

“There’s already a process (through the state board of education) to review social studies or any other program,” said Phil Jeneary, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards. “Any change should go through this process and not through the legislature.”

Taylor invited William Jeynes, a professor at California State University-Long Beach, to speak at the subcommittee hearing. Jeynes advocates Bible teaching in public schools.

Jeynes said learning the Bible helps students learn more about world history and improves their understanding of people of religious faiths, including those other than Christianity.

“It’s hard to imagine a person being educated unless they have a practical Bible education,” said Taylor, who spoke virtually during the hearing. “If one is to be considered knowledgeable, the Bible is clearly a piece of literature one should be familiar with.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames and a former professor at Iowa State University, said he opposes the bill, in part because of its narrow focus.

“We need to know more about a lot of religions,” Quirmbach said. “Obviously we need to know a lot about Christianity or Judeo-Christian theology. But we must have students educated in a wide variety of religions.

Taylor and Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, endorsed moving the bill forward. It can now be considered by the Senate Education Committee.

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