A bill introduced at the Iowa Statehouse this week would establish a public school course centered on the Bible — sparking outcry from opponents who call it an "extreme piece of legislation."
If passed, Iowa would join a small but growing number of states with "Bible literacy" laws that allow or require public schools to offer such courses.
Supporters say that studying the Bible for its historical and cultural influence is instrumental to understanding western civilization and the values on which America was built.
"Beyond its literary and cultural significance, which is significant, the Bible is also an essential thread of the American consciousness, and without it, American unity is unraveling," said Drew Zahn, spokesman for the Christian conservative organization The Family Leader, which is endorsing the legislation.
House File 2031 would direct the state Department of Education to prepare material and teacher training for a high school elective course that focuses on the Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible's New Testament. It would be a social studies class.
"Basically, I want to give students the opportunity to study the Bible from the perspective of its impact on history and culture," said state Rep. Dean Fisher, R- Montour, who introduced the bill along with 11 other Republicans.
Iowa's current law does not prevent schools from teaching an elective class that studies the literature, history, or art of a particular religion, Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp said.
Laws creating Bible study courses have passed in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. In addition, West Virginia lawmakers recently proposed Bible literacy be offered as an elective in all public and private schools.
Implementation has proven contentious. In Kentucky, for example, the ACLU is contesting courses created after a Bible literacy law passed last year.
There, the ACLU says that some classes are going too far in teaching the Bible as a devotional study instead of an academic one. It found examples of students assigned to memorize Bible verses and the use of videos promoting Christianity such as "God is Not Dead 2."
What remains unclear is how much support such a bill will garner here in Iowa.