Proposed Bill Would Require ND Schools to Offer Bible History Course

The proposed course would be offered as an elective at all public schools

FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota legislators are discussing a bill that would allow public schools to offer a course on biblical history.

State Representative Aaron McWilliams (R-Hillsboro) says if students want a deeper understanding of American history, they should learn how the Bible influenced the Founding Fathers.

“The very first argument of the very first Constitutional Congress was whether or not they should start with a prayer. You had Anabaptists, you had Quakers, you had Anglicans all debating. It’s relevant whether we want to admit it or not,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams joined forces with Representative Jim Kasper (R-Fargo), Senator Oley Larsen (R-Minot) and Senator Jordan Kannianen (R-Stanley) on the bill which would enable public schools to offer an elective course teaching how the bible shaped history.

He says it’s merely not a class centered on indoctrinating students on Christian ideals.

“There’s a way to be able to teach things without pushing it as a governing source of your life. Whether we want to admit it or not, the United States of America was founded on Judeo–Christian principles, and I think that a course on the Bible, you could answer a lot of those questions,” said McWilliams.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the course described in this particular bill focuses too much on Christianity, and doesn’t allow students to learn about other religious beliefs.

“This class is one half unit Old Testament and one half unit of the New Testament, so in that case, it is squarely promoting one religion over another and that does not pass Constitutional muster,” said Heather Smith, the Executive Director of the ACLU of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

The ACLU says there was a similar case about a school district in Texas allowing a bible–related class back in 2007.

Smith says for any public school to incorporate religion into lessons while not violating the Constitution, it needs to avoid preaching doctrine and bring other viewpoints into the mix.

“A school could teach comparative religious classes or you could talk about the Bible’s relationship to literature, art, or music. It’s really difficult to do so in a Constitutionally–permissible manner, and those are really our issues with this bill,” Smith said.

McWilliams says he plans on adding an amendment to the bill giving public school districts the option of offering the elective course.

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