The “Bible bill” passed with an overwhelming 73-26 vote in the West Virginia House on Tuesday. The bill allows high schools to offer Bible courses as an elective.
“Nothing compares to the impact, not even the other religious texts that you are referring to have had near the impact on our culture as the Bible has had,” Republican Delegate Kevan Bartlett said in a statement on this first victory on the road to the bill’s passage. “Theology needs to be done in the church house but this is acknowledging that the Bible has had an impact,” he added.
While Bartlett characterizes the potential school elective as a “purely instructional” option, not everyone is so enthusiastic. “If we are going to codify the Bible into classes like that, then we also need to codify the Quoran, Bhagavad Gita, the I Ching, Native-American sacred texts — or any sacred texts,” said Orthodox Christian Elliot Namay.
Islamic Association of West Virginia Vice President Ibtesam Sue Barazi has further argued that a class exclusively teaching the Bible is discriminatory to people of other beliefs. “Those girls who wear the hijab, such as myself, they already feel discrimination, isolation and demonization from other children — and, sometimes, from some teachers as well,” she argued at a hearing Monday on the House bill. “So we don’t need to have them pointed out when they choose not to choose this class.”
Rabbi Victor Urecki from the Congregation B’Nai Jacob Synagogue posed another argument: That reducing it to mere historic literature is sacrilegious. “That’s why I would hate to be a teacher trying to go through that minefield of trying to be both respectful of the text but also treat it as literature and a historical document,” he explained.
Jefferson Delegate John Doyle, a Democrat, said that the bill has turned from something that might be broadened to examine religious history as a whole, to something unconstitutional that prioritizes one faith to the exclusion of others. Furthermore, he is concerned that it broadcasts that message to the nation at large.
“I voted for this bill to come out of the education committee, and I did so hoping it could be broadened when it came out of there, and sadly it was not,” Doyle said. “The message that will be heard around the country is only Christians are welcome in West Virginia, and we must not send that message.”
Having passed the House, the bill will now be reviewed and debated by the West Virginia Senate.