After opening the state legislature’s session with a prayer, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed House Bill 128 into law on Tuesday. The bill allows Kentucky’s public schools to teach an elective course on the Bible.
According to the legislation’s text, it aims to “familiarize” students with the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament, and the New Testament:
“The purpose of a course under this section is to: teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.”
While HB 128 does not require students actually enroll in the class, its passing was predictably controversial. Amber Duke of Kentucky’s ACLU criticized its narrow scope, specifically pointing out that a Bible literacy class would not give students an opportunity to learn about other religions (though this might not be a problem for a state where 76% of adults identify as Christian).
“They will not be teaching about the Qu’ran or the sacred texts of other religions. That would be more of a comparative religions class,” Duke told NBC News. “This is a Bible literacy class.”
Rep. D.J Johnson’s plug for the bill, which he sponsored, was a bit different than Duke’s and glosses over that whole “separation of church and state” thing:
Local news station WDRB reports:
“[The Bible] really did set the foundation that our founding fathers used to develop documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. All of those came from principles from the Bible.”
Gov. Bevin was shocked that there was even controversy over the law. “The idea that we would not want this to be an option for people in school, that would be crazy,” Bevin said during HB 128’s signing. “I don’t know why every state would not embrace this, why we as a nation would not embrace this.”
In its current form, the legislation is constitutional. But another representative from Kentucky’s ACLU, Kate Miller, expressed further concern that its implemented curriculum could cross that line. Miller told WDRB: “We want to make sure that teachers can teach and make sure that they don’t go in to preach.”
The law will go into effect on June 30, just in the nick of time for another school year.