Written by Don Byrd

By a 22-18 vote, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would allow local school districts to offer an elective course on the Bible. Senate Bill 1502 directs the state’s Board of Education to create curriculum guidelines for courses on the Old Testament, New Testament, or both. Here is the language the legislation adds to a provision that already authorizes a high school elective on comparative religion.

The Board of Education shall authorize local school boards to offer as an elective in grades nine through 12 with appropriate credits toward graduation a course on (i) the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament of the Bible; (ii) the New Testament of the Bible; or (iii) a combined course on both. The Board of Education shall develop Standards of Learning and curriculum guidelines for such courses. The purpose of any such course is to introduce students to biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy. Each such course shall be designed to familiarize students with the contents, history, and literary style and structure of the relevant texts and their influence on law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values, and culture.

No student who participates in a course offered pursuant to this section shall be required to use a specific translation of a religious text as the sole textbook for the course, and a student may use a different translation from that chosen by the local school board.

Any course offered pursuant to this section shall follow all applicable state and federal laws and all state and federal guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of enrolled students. No such course shall endorse, favor, promote, disfavor, or show hostility toward any particular religion or nonreligious perspective.

As Bob Allen reports for Baptist News Global, the bill appears based on model legislation crafted by advocates engaged in Project Blitz, a coordinated campaign to increase the role and visibility of Christian perspectives in public spaces, particularly public schools.

The Baptist Joint Committee recently joined other civil and religious liberty advocates in opposing Project Blitz and similar legislative campaigns, calling it an “alarming effort… to harness the power of the government to impose the faith of some onto everyone else, including our public school students.”