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Alabama and Georgia debate adding Bible classes to public schools.

Lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia are pushing bills that would encourage public schools to offer courses about the study of the Bible and its influence.

In Alabama, the Education Committee of the House of Representatives voted 7-5 in late January to allow high schools to offer an elective course based on a new textbook titled The Bible and Its Influence or other texts as chosen by local districts.

The legislation was introduced by two Democrats, House Majority Leader Ken Guin and House Speaker Seth Hammett. In an unusual split, Republicans opposed the bill and accused Democrats of politicizing God.

"I know what this is about. This is about more than God. This is about politics," said Rep. Scott Beason, a Republican from Gardendale.

Republicans said the bill was unnecessary because schools can already teach about the Bible. One Religious Right activist, the Rev. Dan Ireland, attacked The Bible and Its Influence, saying it contains nude pictures of Adam and Eve.

In Georgia, Democratic state Sen. Kasim Reed has announced he is cosponsoring a similar piece of legislation. Reed's bill would permit high schools to offer a Bible literacy course in grades nine through 12. The bill does not mandate use of The Bible and Its Influence in schools, but given the dearth of materials, that would probably be the text most commonly used.

"This is an important education initiative," said Reed. "The Bible is the basis for much of our history, literature, music and art. It is woven into the very fabric of so many things we teach in Georgia schools."

Republicans accused Reed of grandstanding. "This is election-year pandering using the voter's deepest beliefs as a tool," said Sen. Eric Johnson, a Republican from Savannah. "Their proposal makes them modern-day Pharisees. People of faith are smarter than that and will see through this."

Meanwhile, a school district in New Hampshire has announced plans to begin using The Bible and Its Influence. Officials at the Winnisquam Regional School District say they will offer the class on an experimental basis as an elective.

Americans United has expressed concerns about the book, which was pulled together by a committee headed by Religious Right activist Chuck Stetson. AU says its treatment of complex theological issues is often simplistic and that the book tends to emphasize the positive influence of the Bible, thus lacking a balanced perspective. (See "The Bible Literacy Project: Chuck Stetson's Trojan Horse?" January 2006 Church & State.)

Some conservatives have criticized the tome as well. Dennis L. Cuddy, a frequent conservative commentator, wrote a column for the Christian Wire Service asserting that The Bible and Its Influence could interfere with parents' ability to impart religious instruction at home.

"Besides undermining the traditional biblical instruction many parents give their children at home, and that which they receive at church, 'The Bible and Its Influence' includes just plain false information," Cuddy charged.
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1U6AL
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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