The bill would allow local school boards to offer elective courses for credit on the Old Testament, the New Testament or a combination of both.
No student would be required to take the classes, but they would provide academic credit toward graduation. While civil libertarians worry about religious courses at taxpayer-supported schools violating the Constitutional separation of church and state, primary sponsor Sen. Stan Bingham said Wednesday he doesn't see a problem.
"This is an elective," said Bingham (R-Davidson). "I don't think it's out of order for a student to ask a school system to take an elective in the Bible."
Bingham's bill, as written, only names the Bible as an option. A dozen lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate have signed on as co-sponsors, including three Democrats.
Sarah Preston, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union-North Carolina, said it is notoriously difficult to teach the Bible inside a public school in a manner consistent with the First Amendment, which can put educators in a thorny situation.
"Classes that teach the Bible have to be conducted in a way that does not promote or disparage religion, or alienate students with different beliefs. But because religious belief is such a personal issue, we believe it's a topic best left to the student's parents, and not government bureaucrats or school officials."
Bingham said he is happy to debate such issues as his bill moves through the legislative process.
"There's going to be a lot of discussion on this, and that's exactly what I want to see happen," he said.