Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, is sponsoring a proposal that would allow school boards in the state to offer a high school elective course on the Old Testament and the New Testament.
“The Bible is simply a part of the fabric of life,” Baker told members of a House committee Feb. 19.
The measure, among three similar proposals being considered in the Missouri House and Senate, would require state education officials to develop learning standards and curriculum guidelines for the courses. The classes would include the contents of the Bible, its history, the literary style and structure and the book’s influences on society.
Baker, a freshman lawmaker who works at Ozark Bible College in Neosho, Missouri, acknowledged his idea might draw opposition from those who want to see a separation between the church and state.
“This is something, for whatever reason over the course of time, has caused a lot of controversy,” he said. “Obviously, there is going to be controversy.”
Some of the strongest opposition came from a fellow pastor.
Brian Kaylor, pastor at Second Baptist Church in Jefferson City, slammed the legislation, telling members of the House Special Committee on Student Accountability that the government should stay out of Bible teachings.
“I oppose this legislation not because I oppose the Bible,” Kaylor said. “The Bible cannot be reduced to merely an elective high school class. The Bible is inherently religious and we cannot pretend otherwise. I do not need the state teaching my son the Bible.”
State Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, was among those who also was wary of the proposal, saying schools currently can use the Bible as reference material.
“It can already be done without this bill,” she said. “It’s one more bill when schools have the ability to do this now.”
Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, who was a religion teacher at a Catholic school, also expressed doubt about Baker’s initiative, which has played out in other states as part of a national effort by special interest groups.
“It looks to me like we’re opening up the opportunity to — maybe intentionally, maybe unintentionally — promoting one religion over another,” Burnett said.
Rep. Matt Sain, D-Kansas City, said the legislation would promote Christianity and, in turn, advance one particular religion over another.
“There’s a constitutional issue here,” he said.
But, Baker said putting the issue on the statute books will alleviate fears by school districts of possible legal action.
“It’s just for clarity’s sake,” he said.
Christian activist Chuck Stetson, a founder of the Bible Literacy Project that promotes the academic study of the religious text, said the Bible was the origin of many modern Western values and should form an essential component of any young person’s education.
“The Koran doesn’t come up in the plays of Shakespeare,” he said.
Mary Byrne, a conservative education activist from Springfield, Missouri, also said having a background in the Bible can help students understand the basis for the founding of America.
“Our children are biblically illiterate,” she said.
The proposal is similar to initiatives underway in other states, including Virginia and West Virginia. In North Dakota, lawmakers rejected a nearly identical bill on constitutional grounds.
The committee voted 8-2 to forward the legislation to the full House for further debate. Burnett and Sain cast the “no” votes.