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February 7, 2006

Parents, students say Bible course needs guidelines

ATHENS, Ala. — Gathered recently to answer questions about a state proposal to allow a course on the Bible to high school students, Athens, Ala., parents, students and a teacher questioned whether the bill mandates guidelines to teach the course without violating the separation of church and state.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, and House Speaker, Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, is set for a vote this legislative session to allow an elective course in public high schools called “The Bible and Its Influence.”

Individual boards of education would have the authority to offer the course in each jurisdiction if the bill passes. The bill does not stipulate who would teach the course, nor does it offer guidelines for qualifications of that teacher.

“The Bible and its Influence,” by Cullen Schippe-Chuck Stetson, is the only textbook named in the bill. The text takes the Bible and examines it as an influential document and how it has affected such things as art, literature and culture.

While its content is meant to examine only the influence of the Bible and not its religious meanings, a Clements High School teacher said teachers may not be able to separate their beliefs. Chris Faulkner, a science teacher, was one of several people attending services at Berea Baptist Church on Wednesday night who agreed to discuss the bill.

“There is no way to bring this into the classroom without getting into a discussion about belief, “ Faulkner said.

He said there would eventually be a student in the class who doesn’t necessarily choose the class but is forced to take the class because of scheduling issues. It could be the only elective course available at the time a student needs, for example.

“We have real difficulty with scheduling problems,” he said.

Faulkner is also concerned about credentials required to teach the course.

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