A proposed initiative to allow Idaho high schools to offer a Bible study class likely won’t show up on the November ballot, but the man behind the initiative is looking at other options to bring the Bible into public school classrooms. One potential obstacle to the effort is the Idaho Constitution, which prohibits teaching religious doctrines in public schools.
Chuck Seldon of Boise, the leader of the group Our Godly American Heritage, is sponsoring the initiative. He said schools can teach the Bible without teaching religion. “The Bible is non-denominational, and it also can be taught as history, literature, art, or as an influence on western civilization,” said Seldon. “It does not have to be taught as religion. A lot of people don’t believe that, but the fact that 40 other states are doing that proves that it can be done.”
Seldon got the idea for the initiative supporting Bible study from former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “He says the government is broken and to try to get something done with legislation is almost impossible,” Seldon said. Seldon initially tried to change the Idaho Constitution to allow religious texts to be used, but state constitutional amendments must start in the Legislature before going to the voters.
Seldon claims to have 5,000 signatures for the initiative, which is well short of the 51,712 needed by the end of April. Seldon said his goal isn’t to get the initiative on the ballot, but rather to raise awareness about the issue and encourage action in the Idaho Legislature next year. “It’s pointless to go any further with the initiative, except for the fact that it does educate people,” he said. “We feel that we can get a bill through the Legislature.” Seldon said he isn’t planning on getting the initiative forms notarized, which is a state requirement. “We’re not shooting at a goal, and it’s not an official signature.”
The next step for Seldon will be legislation, and he told IdahoReporter.com that he has more than a dozen lawmakers who’ve agreed to support legislation similar to the initiative next year. He said Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, will lead the effort, though Fulcher said nothing is certain yet. “We want to do something,” Fulcher said. He added that he plans to work with Seldon and others to find workable legislation that fits within the Constitution. “It’s not a simple issue to address. There’s constitutional problems there … Idaho has a constitution that is more restrictive than the federal Constitution.”
Article 9, section 6 of the Idaho Constitution says that religious tenents or doctrines can’t be taught in public schools, and that schools can’t use books, papers, tracts, or documents of a sectarian or denominational character. Seldon said the Bible isn’t mentioned in the Idaho Constitution, and other states with similar constitutions use the Bible for non-religious instruction.
Use of the Bible in schools has made headlines in the Treasure Valley during the past year, because the Nampa Classical Academy, a charter school, has sued state officials to allow teachers to use the Bible and other religious texts in the classroom.