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DES MOINES — A proposed law is advancing in the Iowa Senate that would require the state education board to adopt standards for a public high school course on the Bible.
The measure, advanced Wednesday by two Senate Republicans, would give schools the option to offer the class as a social studies elective.
The legislation does not require schools to offer the course, nor does it include other religious texts.
Iowa Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, noted the course could only be offered after being approved by a district’s school board and district improvement advisory committee.
Taylor said the bill focuses on the Bible because of Christianity’s influence on U.S. history.
“Why the Bible? It has a disproportionate influence on U.S. history and American culture,” he said. “… That’s just the way it is, good or bad, like it or don’t. Culturally speaking, there’s no comparison.”
Taylor said he does not oppose — nor does the bill restrict — any instruction about other religions, adding he would welcome more religious education instruction in schools.
“I don’t feel this is overreach,” he said.
Lobbyists for Iowa school boards and teachers are registered as opposed to Senate File 2136, saying they believe it amounts to state lawmakers directing school curriculum. They also noted many schools already offer courses on world religions.
“There is already a process (through the state education board) to look at social studies or any other curriculum,” said Phil Jeneary, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards. “Any change should go through that process and not the Legislature.”
Taylor invited William Jeynes, a professor at California State University-Long Beach, to speak at the subcommittee hearing. Jeynes advocates for instruction on the Bible in public schools.
Jeynes said learning about the Bible helps students learn about world history and enhances their understanding of people of faiths, including those other than Christianity.
“It’s hard to imagine a person be educated unless he has a working education of the Bible,” said Taylor, who spoke virtually at the hearing. “If one is to be regarded as knowledgeable, the Bible is clearly one piece of literature with which one should be familiar.”
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames and former Iowa State University professor, said he opposes the bill, in part because of its narrow focus.
“We need to know more about a whole lot of religions,” Quirmbach said. “Obviously, we need to know a lot about Christianity, or Judeo-Christian theology. But we have to have students educated on a wide variety of religions.”
Taylor and Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, approved advancing the bill. It is now eligible for consideration by the Senate Education Committee.
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