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Eye On Boise

Otter vetoes Bible-in-schools bill, says it violates state Constitution; full story

Gov. Butch Otter has vetoed SB 1342a, the Bible in schools bill, saying it violates the Idaho Constitution. “I have deep respect and appreciation for the Bible as religious doctrine as well as a piece of historic literature,” Otter wrote in his veto message. “However, allowing S1342 to become law is in direct contravention to the Idaho Constitution, and it could result in a loss of funding and costly litigation for Idaho public schools.”

Here's my full story from spokesman.com:

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a Bible-in-schools bill on Tuesday, saying it violates the Idaho Constitution and could result in “costly litigation for Idaho public schools.”

“I have deep respect and appreciation for the Bible as religious doctrine as well as a piece of historic literature,” Otter wrote in his veto message, his first this year, after signing hundreds of bills into law. “However, allowing S1342 to become law is in direct contravention to the Idaho Constitution.”

Idaho’s state Constitution, in Article 9, Section 6, specifically forbids “books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character” from being used in Idaho schools.

Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, argued that the Bible is “not a sect or a denomination, since it’s used by everyone.” She told a Senate committee that she considers the Bible to be “universal.”

Her bill originally said, “USE OF THE BIBLE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The Bible is expressly permitted to be used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes.” After a Senate committee hearing that stretched for more than two hours, senators amended the bill to say: “USE OF THE BIBLE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The use of religious texts, including the Bible, is expressly permitted to be used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes.”

               Senators also deleted references to using the Bible for reference in “astronomy, biology, (and) geology” classes, leaving in references to using it to “further the study of literature, comparative religion, English and foreign languages, United States and world history, comparative government, law, philosophy, ethics, world geography, archaeology, music, sociology, and other topics of study.”

When the full Senate passed the amended bill, Nuxoll said, “This legislation will relieve any fear or confusion for students, teachers or parents who desire to use the Bible for reference purposes as it occurs naturally in different subjects. … Some perceive the Bible to be central to only the Christian faith, but this is not true. It is referenced by Jews, Muslims, Christians and others.”

               Opponents disagreed, but the bill passed anyway; it passed 31-3 in the Senate and 54-15 in the House. They also argued that religious texts can be used as references in Idaho schools now, but because of the Idaho Constitution’s limitations, they can’t require that by law.

               Senators said one up side to the bill was that it deleted an outdated, clearly unconstitutional and never-enforced section of current Idaho law that requires daily reading of selections from the Bible in Idaho’s public schools, from a list prepared by the state Board of Education. Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, told the Senate, “I think we would all agree, senators, that … this legislation does a better job than that.”




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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