A bill clarifying the use of the Bible in public schools cleared its final legislative hurdle Monday following lengthy House floor debate.
The House voted 54-15 to pass the bill, despite continued concern over lawsuits and a warning from the attorney general’s office.
Pushed by Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, Senate Bill 1342 states that the use of religious texts, specifically including the Bible, is permitted for reference purposes.
State law already allows the Bible to be used for such purposes, but Dixon and other supporters said the bill is necessary to relieve any fear or confusion that may exist.
“The Bible is the text that is under attack,” said Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell. “It is not the Quran that is under attack.”
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, made an unsuccessful bid to send the bill to the amending order, in an attempt to remove all references to the Bible. She cited a legal opinion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office, which warns the bill “may raise a religious preference issue” and is unconstitutional.
“That’s a pretty big risk to take,” Rubel said.
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Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, was one of two Republicans to vote against the bill. He warned lawmakers the bill was “patently unconstitutional” and he was casting his “vote against needlessly wasting taxpayer dollars” to defend potential lawsuits.
Dixon downplayed the legal concerns — saying “the little Supreme Court in my head” says the bill will pass constitutional muster.
Several House Republicans said the bill is important because the Bible is a foundational text for understanding many of the history and literature lessons students will encounter in school.
“I can’t think of one book in the history of mankind that has had more affect over what has happened in the world,” Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa said.
Ultimately, the bill passed on nearly a party-line vote. Wood and Rep. Lance Clow opposed the bill. Rep. Dan Rudolph, D-Lewiston, broke fellow Democrats to back the bill.
The bill next heads to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk for final consideration. It passed the Senate 31-3 earlier this month.