Idaho, the Bible is not an archeology textbook

While it might not be time to call John Scopes, it’d be safe to have him on speed dial.

Senate Bill 1342, which explicitly allows teachers to reference the Bible and other religious texts, passed the Idaho Senate Monday and is now headed to the state’s House of Representatives.

Sponsored by Senator Sheryl Nuxoll, the text of the original bill allowed the use of only the Bible to be explicitly used in astronomy, biology and geology classes.

Through amendments, the words ‘other religious texts’ were added into the bills language as addendum to all mentions of the Bible and astronomy, biology and geology were struck from the bill entirely. However, subjects such as world geography, sociology and archaeology would still be open to biblical reference.

Additionally, the bill included a repeal of a now-unconstitutional law which mandated selected Bible readings in all public classrooms, so long as the reading occurred, “without comment or interpretation.” It is unclear whether the unconstitutional law is still in practical effect.

Clearly the removal of an antiquated law explicitly encouraging the indoctrination of a certain religious text is an improvement for the state’s image, though some still worry about the effects of having teachers present the Bible as educational material.

This is not to say that the state of Idaho is implementing religious indoctrination, at least not in the strictest sense of the word.

“Teachers must follow an ethics code. They know they cannot use religious texts to promote religious doctrine. If the Bible or other religious text is used inappropriately there would be a hearing,” said Democratic Senator Janie Ward-Engelking, who voted no on this bill’s first iteration in February, calling it unnecessary.

“State law already allows the use of religious texts in the classroom when appropriate,” Ward-Engelking added.

It is not clear, however, how the Bible can be used in reference to subjects such as archaeology or geography without either refuting scientific evidence or refuting the religious text itself, both of which could be considered indoctrination for or against a religion.

In a statement to the Idaho Statesman, Senator Nuxoll claimed that teachers needed this bill in order to teach to the best of their ability without fear of reprisal.

“In an environment often clouded by political correctness, Senate Bill 1342 eliminates confusion as to what your rights are and affirms free speech for our students, parents and teachers,” Senator Nuxoll said.

Yet nothing has been truly clarified, only that there appears to be a very thin line in which religious materials, with an expressed and biased emphasis on the Bible by Senator Nuxoll, can be used ‘objectively’ in Idaho schools without promoting indoctrination either for or against.

How does an archaeology teacher better his class by referencing a book which claims dinosaur bones are six thousand years old? How does a geography teacher objectively make use of a book which claims the world is flat? How does a sociology professor objectively use a book which refutes all concepts of performative gender?

The answer, it seems, is legalese.

The bill is likely to pass through the House and any complaints regarding a teacher’s use of the bill will have to posit the teacher used the Bible inappropriately. There are existing ethics regarding this subject, but in an odd sort of legal bind caused by the vague wording of laws, who and what defines the practical red line of appropriateness will likely come down to whether there are successful complaints that that line has been breached.