TALLAHASSEE - A House panel Thursday backed a proposal that would require public high schools to offer elective classes on religion and the Bible amid debate about whether the courses would be constitutional and religiously neutral.
Bill sponsor Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, said the classes would be objective and that students would not be forced to take them. Supporters also pointed to the historical role of the Bible, which Daniels described as the “best selling book” of all time.
“This is a public policy issue, not a worship issue,” Daniels said before the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 195).
But opponents questioned the objectivity and religious neutrality, in part because the courses would not include instruction on such things as the Koran.
“I don’t know how you can have religious neutrality if your curriculum is just focused on one holy book,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said.
Florida law allows school districts to offer such courses, but the Daniels bill would make it mandatory. It would require courses on the study of religion; courses on the Old Testament and Hebrew scriptures; courses on the New Testament; and courses on the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament and the New Testament. With the 60-day legislative session starting Tuesday, it is too early to know whether the proposal will pass this year. A Senate version has not been filed.