Under a new West Virginia law, county boards of education may now offer courses that familiarize students with the Bible, reports UPI.
Although such courses do not abridge anyone’s freedom to practice religion, the law (and similar statutes recently introduced around the country) has spurred a debate over whether the classes will be “unconstitutional” religious instruction, typically about Christianity.
The courses have to maintain religious neutrality, accommodate diverse religious views and not favor or show hostility toward “any particular religion, nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”
The bill authorizing the classes was passed 30-3 by the West Virginia Senate on March 4 after earlier approval by the House of Delegates, 73-26. It became law on May 2, 90 days after its passage.
An amendment from Sen. Stephen Baldwin that removed the word “Bible” from the bill and permitted courses on all sacred texts or comparative world religions failed.
Baldwin, pastor at Ronceverte Presbyterian Church and one of the three no votes, said he opposes the legislation because it specifies only the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible and the New Testament of the Bible instead of all the world’s sacred texts.
“I’m a pastor and it’s important to me that my son learns about religion at his church, not at his school. I think this bill violates religious liberty,” Baldwin said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia opposed the bill, saying the legislation would result in discrimination against religious minorities.