CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would allow the Bible to be taught as an elective course in West Virginia high schools passed the House of Delegates Tuesday after a debate on whether theology can be separated from the teaching.

The House passed HB 4780 on a 73-26 vote and sent it to the Senate.

Kevan Bartlett

The bill creates a process by which a county board of education may offer three elective social studies courses on the Old Testament, New Testament and on the Hebrew Scriptures/New Testament. The county board would be required to submit the course standards to the state Department of Education.

Tuesday’s debate focused on the question of whether the religious views of the teacher of the course could remain separate from the subject matter.

Bill sponsor, Delegate Kevan Bartlett, R-Kanawha, said he has faith that teachers can look at the Bible and “see the significance of it apart from the theological implications.”

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, disagreed.

“I just don’t know how anybody could say with a straight face that you can separate theology from the Bible,” Pushkin said.

Mike Pushkin

The bill’s language says the purpose of the course is to:

“Teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that
are prerequisites to understanding the development of American society and culture, including literature, art, music, oratory, and public policy;”

It also says the courses will “maintain religious neutrality” while “accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of students in the school.”

Bartlett, himself a pastor, said the elective course would focus on “studying the impact of the Bible.”

Pushkin said there are plenty other appropriate places where the Bible should be taught.

“I think this is something that is deeply personal when you’re talking about one’s religion and how one learns about it and I think that’s exactly why it should be kept in churches, synagogues and masques and at home where parents can teach their children about religion,” Puskin said.

The bill was the subject of a public hearing Monday in the House.