03/25/19 -- HB 267 -- Allow public schools to offer an elective course on the Bible

Bill Number: 
HB 267
Bill Purpose: 
Allow public schools to offer an elective course on the Bible
Date of Vote: 
03/25/19
My Vote: 
No
Explanation: 

HB 267, introduced by Representative Ben Baker (Republican - District 160) allows public schools the option to offer an elective social studies course on the Old and/or New Testaments of the Bible.  While already authorized by existing law, this bill was filed due to some schools suggesting there was confusion regarding if they were allowed to teach the Bible as its own course versus simply using it as a teaching aid in an otherwise distinct course.

I have a lot of respect for the bill sponsor, who offered this bill in good faith (no pun intended). That said, there are some legitimate concerns regarding the Constitutionality of the bill's wording.  While the courts have previously ruled that the existing law allowing the Bible or other religious texts to be used as a teaching aid to be Constitutional, this bill's reference to a particular religious document raises some possible issues.  I am inclined to think that the courts would in fact rule in favor of this bill, however the process to adjudicate that would be costly. 

In anticipation of that objection, Representative Shamed Dogan (Republican - District 98) introduced amendment 0740H01.06H that added additional religious texts to the bill as possible subjects of elective courses.  That amendment was modified by voice vote by an amendment by Represntative Mike Moon (Republican - District 157) to essentially remove lists the additonal texts.  I voted against Representative Moon's amendment, however it passed anyway.  Once that occured, it essentially defeated the purpose of the original amendment, so Representative Dogan withdrew it.

In addition to the concerns regarding Constitutionality, I received multiple pieces of feedback from supporters encouraging me to oppose this bill on religious grounds.  The concern was that public school teachers are unlikely to be able to teach the Bible in a non-biased or fair way - as a result those who were personally particularly religious were very worried that this bill would result in kids being provided anti-religious sentiments even if intentions were good.

I was not exicted to vote against this bill, however I felt that given both the feedback I was given and the potential for extra cost to the State, it was best to do so.