Idaho GOP wants bible as textbook for geology, biology at school

Reuters/Max Rossi
An Idaho Republican wants public schools to use the Bible as a reference book for such disparate subjects as art, geology, foreign languages and more. She even mentioned the Constitution and Bill of Rights ‒ specifically freedom of speech ‒ in her bid.

Marge Arnzen, the Idaho County chair of the Republican Party, submitted a proposed resolution“supporting Bible use in Idaho public schools” to the state GOP’s Central Committee at a weekend meeting, in the hopes that her proposal ‒ with the explicit support of the Central Committee, which accepted her proposal ‒ might turn into a bill and, eventually, a state law.

The resolution calls for the Bible to be “expressly permitted to be used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes to further the study of literature, comparative religion, English and foreign languages, U.S. and world history, comparative government, law, philosophy, ethics, astronomy, biology, geology, world geography, archaeology, music, sociology, and other topics of study where an understanding of the Bible may be useful or relevant.”

Arnzen begins her proposal by citing the Idaho Constitution Preamble, which says: "We, the people of the State of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare do establish this Constitution." She then quoted the Idaho Republican platform, which reads: "We believe the strength of our nation lies with our faith and reliance on God our Creator, the individual and the family..." and "We believe the U.S. Constitution is the greatest and most inspired document to govern a nation..."

She also cited students’ and educators’ rights to freedom of speech guaranteed under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and under the Idaho Constitution.

She did not, however, mention the Establishment Clause ‒ or freedom of religion ‒ also contained within the Bill of Rights’ First Amendment.

The problem critics have with Arnzen’s proposal is not bringing the Bible into the classroom for subjects like world history, literature, comparative religion and other similar subjects where the Bible and religion are normal topics of discussion. It’s when the Holy Book is used a reference text for astronomy, biology, geology and more science-based classes that the issue arises.

“While the Bible could add value to a number of curricula... it's not widely recognized for being much help with plate tectonics,” Ars Technica’s John Timmer wrote.

The resolution initially asked Idaho lawmakers to support a bill that would allow public schools to offer elective Bible study courses “for any of the secular discipline study purposes stated above if students, parents, and/or school district electors request such a course.”

“That’s legal if there’s interest and if it’s taught in a secular way, but that just doesn’t happen very often in practice,” blogger Hemant Mehta wrote on the Friendly Atheist (emphasis original).

However, that language was struck from the final proposal after some members of the Central Committee “expressed concern with other religious texts, such as the Quran being used in the same way,” the Idaho Public Television’s Melissa Davlin reported.

“They got rid of the part that could be legal, and left in parts that could easily violate the law,” Mehta wrote. “It’s just another way to get Creationism into public schools.”

The Supreme Court banned the teaching of Creationism in science classes in a 1987 court decision, ruling that teaching that a supreme being created humankind endorses religion. In 1997, a US District Court barred the teaching of a related, religious-based view of intelligent design. Another District Court judge ruled that disclaimers stating that “evolution is a theory, not a fact” violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause in 2005.

The GOP has a 4-1 majority in both chambers of the Idaho legislature, and the state’s governor is a Republican.

“So bad ideas can become law without much opposition,” Mehta wrote. “I suspect it won’t be too long before a state legislator sponsors this disastrous bill.”

Louisiana (2008) and Tennessee (2012) have both passed laws that allow teachers to introduce religious materials in science classes as supplementary texts.