The Sunshine State already has an existing state law, approved in 2002, granting school districts the options of providing courses to include the “objective study” of the Bible.
House Bill 195, however, would require the school districts to include the courses as a part of the curriculum while allowing students to decide on enrolling.
Rep. Brad Drake, the Republican co-sponsoring HB 195, said he believed students learning about the Bible would reduce crime.
“A study of a book of creation by its creator is absolutely essential,” Mr Drake told the Tampa Bay Times. “So why not? It’s the book that prepares us for eternity, and there’s no other book that does that.”
But the Mr Drake’s reasoning demonstrates why secularists oppose the bill. Florida schools are already allowed to add Bible courses, and opponents believe there may be an ulterior motive to the proposed measure.
“There’s no question this bill is introduced with the goal of putting God in our schools,” Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, told the Tampa Bay Times.
Ms Laser described HB 195, and other similar legislation, as unconstitutional and divisive. She argued that the first 16 words of the First Amendment makes the case against Mr Drake’s proposed bill: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“There’s an explicit strategy to pass an incremental set of bills that start with more passable ones that sound neutral, but they aren’t,” Ms Laser added.
One of the examples she mention is a law that passed last year, requiring all public schools in the state to post “In God We Trust", in a prominent place on campus.
“They sound innocuous,” Ms Laser added continued, “but Project Blitz makes it clear they’re the first step in a design to codify a Christian America.”
Project Blitz, an initiative of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, wrote on their website that their purpose is to “protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square".
Steve Fitschen, the president of the National Legal Foundation, and a former senior legal advisor to Project Blitz, acknowledged the group’s attempts to have states adopt measures to include “In God We Trust”, the Bible, and other Christian-related topcs in public schools.
However, he denied Ms Laser’s allegations that the mission behind the measures was aimed at making Christianity a state religion.
“It’s not about a secret way to evangelise,” Mr Fitschen told the Tampa Bay Times, noting students already have Bible clubs and other religion-related activities on campuses. “We are not advocating using the mechanism of the state schools to do what kids can do themselves.”
Mr Fitschen said that the group’s aim to “encourage the understanding and practice of religion” is in-line with with the US Constitution. While the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a religion, he argued that it also encouraged and supported religious practice.
“Encouraging religion is not establishing religion,” Mr Fitschen added.
But State Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing Broward COunty, said he is also worried about the “slippery slope” HB 195 could start. He expressed more support to the idea of educating students on the diversity of religion rather than just the Bible.
“As a Christian myself, I would love to learn about different religions, because it would give me an opportunity to respect my brothers and sisters in a different manner,” Mr Jones said. “If we’re saying, ‘My religion trumps yours,’ that causes the divisions we already have.”
But Mr Drake, the co-sponsor of the bill, said he has no objection to teaching world religions and their sacred texts.
“In the world there is one book that is the ultimate authority on mankind. That is the Holy Bible,” Mr Drake added. “I think it should be studied in our schools.”