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Texas State Board of Education approves Bible course for high schools

Thanks to aflacgirl84 for the link.

Texas State Board of Education approves Bible course for high schools

AUSTIN — The State Board of Education on Friday gave final approval to a rule establishing an elective Bible course for high schools, but the panel rejected the arguments of some members and key lawmakers — and left it up to local school districts to design the classes.

Board members approved the new class to be offered in high schools beginning this fall although state officials are still awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state law authorizing the course requires all school districts to make it available to students.

Among those who urged the board to issue specific guidelines for the class was Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who helped write the 2007 law. Mr. Hochberg warned that without specific guidance from the state, some schools would run afoul of the First Amendment requirement of religious neutrality for such classes.

"Let's go forward and do this right and not let the lawyers tell us what we have to do," Mr. Hochberg asked the board, citing the possibility of lawsuits if all school districts design their own courses.

"My interest is keeping the focus on teaching kids and spending less money on lawsuits."

His position was backed by other members of the House Public Education Committee, which drafted the law.

But a majority of board members, including all seven aligned with social conservatives, said they preferred to adopt a general rule now and not get into the specifics of what will be taught in the classes.

"It's better for us to go ahead and do something now," said board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond. "We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don't want to stifle what they (school districts) are doing in classrooms."

The rule was adopted on a 10-5 vote, which allows the course to be put in place in high schools for the 2008-09 school year. If there had been less than a two-thirds vote, the course would have been delayed until the fall of 2009.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has told the board that while the state standards for the Bible class appear to be in compliance with the First Amendment, his office can't guarantee that the courses taught in high schools will be constitutional because they haven't been reviewed.

Critics contend that the board standards for the course are so vague and general that many schools might unknowingly create unconstitutional Bible classes that either promote the religious views of teachers or disparage the religious beliefs of some students.

Earlier this year, the Ector County school board agreed to quit using a Bible course curriculum at two high schools in Odessa that the American Civil Liberties Union said promoted Protestant religious beliefs not shared by Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and many Protestants.



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