Republicans attempt to resurrect school Bible bill

(UPDATED, June 5, to reflect passage of the education resolutions.)

NAMPA — A group of Republicans voiced their displeasure with Gov. Butch Otter by backing a Bible-in-schools initiative during the second day of the state GOP Convention.

GOP convention
Evalyn Bennett, standing at top center, presents her resolution supporting the Bible in public schools Friday at the GOP convention.

On Friday morning, the GOP’s resolutions committee unanimously backed a proposal calling for an amendment to the state constitution to support voluntary use of the Bible in public schools.

Days after the 2016 legislative session ended, Otter issued a rare veto killing a similar Bible bill. In doing so, Otter sided with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, whose office warned that the bill would violate the Idaho Constitution.

Lemhi County Republican Evalyn Bennett pushed the new resolution Friday, arguing that the constitution “can be interpreted to prohibit use of the Bible for reference purposes to further the study of public schools.”

However, use of the Bible is already allowed in Idaho’s public schools, and the leaders of major education groups have said there is no confusion among teachers or school administrators on the issue.

Bennet said Otter’s veto “places him at odds” with the Legislature and the Idaho Republican Central Committee.

“Idaho schools still seem to treat the Bible as a censored document,” she said.

Sims GOP Convention
Rep. Kathleen Sims, right, R-Coeur d’Alene, poses for photos with a poster of Donald Trump during the GOP convention. Sims lost her primary race in May and will not be returning to the Legislature.

Suggested language Bennett provided for a potential constitutional amendment states “No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in public schools…”

Bennet then argued, “The Bible is not a sectarian or denominational document.”

She also suggested the wording in her resolution was stronger than the bill Otter vetoed.

Committee members passed the Bible resolution without any debate in opposition.

Then, on Saturday, the resolution passed after a floor vote among GOP delegates, Betsy Z. Russell of the Spokesman-Review reported.

Party resolutions do not have the force of law, and basically amount to strongly worded statements to the Legislature calling for action on a particular policy issue.

The GOP’s resolutions committee also debated a pair of proposals designed to push back against President Obama’s school guidelines for transgender students.

The committee passed one resolution, which calls on Idaho’s constitutional officers — such as Wasden and Otter — to not follow federal guidelines for providing access to facilities and restrooms for students “consistent with their gender identity.”

“Such fundamental and broad alterations in traditional gender roles across all of Idaho’s public schools would significantly impact students’ experience at public schools, including causing considerable negative impacts to the students’ learning process and lives,” the resolution states.

Otter has already directed the state to support a Texas lawsuit filed in opposition to the Obama administration’s guidelines.

On, Saturday, the final day of the convention, delegates also passed that resolution a floor vote, Russell reported.

Another resolution, which called for creating separate facilities for transgender students, failed with only one vote of support.

However, Republicans did not have the votes to update their party platform, which remains unchanged since 2012, Russell reported.

The convention kicked off Thursday the Idaho Center in Nampa and adjourned Saturday.

Throughout the weekend, the convention proceeded much smoother than the 2014 Republican convention. That confab was marred by infighting and procedural wrangling and adjourned without any significant business accomplished.