CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republican and Democratic Senators engaged in a spirited debate Tuesday on a controversial bill aimed at encouraging teaching the Bible in public schools.

SB 252 says schools may offer an elective social studies course in grades nine or above on Hebrew Scriptures and the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Bill sponsor Senator Mike Azinger (R-Wood) said the Bible was integral to the formation of the country and its impact needs to be understood.

“The purpose of this bill is to teach the book that has influenced western culture, and more importantly America, more than any other book,” Azinger said during a Senate Education Committee meeting.

Senator Mike Romano (D-Harrison), who opposes the bill, said it is a mistake to push one particular form of religion into the public schools for study.

“We’re making a law that promotes one specific form of Christianity over all the others in order to carry out some misguided gays, guns and abortion mandate,” Romano said.

Azinger countered that the bill was changed in committee to give schools the option of offering the Bible class. That’s a significant change from the original version which required schools to offer the class as an elective.

Still, opponents called the bill a waste of time, since schools are already permitted to teach classes on religion as long as they meet constitutional muster by not proselytizing.

Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone County), who opposes the bill, grew frustrated with the lengthy debate while other issues are pending.

“We talk about what’s important to our state–job creation, education of our people–and yet we’re talking about God, guns, gays and abortion,” Stollings said. “It just upsets me. I think this bill is worthless, frankly.”

The hour-long debate ended when the committee adjourned abruptly without voting on the bill. Committee Chairman Kenny Mann said afterward that he still plans to keep the bill on the agenda and have a vote later.

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