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Eye On Boise

Rep. Dixon on Bible-in-schools bill: ‘The little Supreme Court in my head says this is OK’

The Idaho House has voted 54-15 in favor of SB 1342a, the Bible-in-schools bill, after much debate. The bill would expressly permit use of the Bible in public schools as a reference. A bipartisan move to amend the bill to remove the word “Bible” – and simply say religious texts may be used as a reference – was voted down, 15-52, though backers said the bill as written clearly violates the Idaho Constitution, which is far stricter about banning religious texts in schools than the U.S. Constitution.

Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, the bill’s lead House sponsor, said, “This is nothing new. ...This has been done in nine other states, it’s been tested through their attorneys general and their court systems. ... What we’ve created here is very similar to that.” Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, countered, “Idaho has a very different way in their Constitution of dealing with this. It’s much more strict, it’s very defined, very pointed as to what is allowed. So I think we have a little different situation here as opposed to possibly those other states.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, argued in favor of the bill. “American jurisprudence is built on it, common law is built on it. It’s a fundamental reason why the Bible is being attacked today” he said, “because it’s the foundation of what built America. … It is fundamental to the American way of life and therefore is different from the Koran or any other of these texts that one wants to bring up as religious. And it is fundamentally because the Bible is foundational to the American experience.”

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said, “The Attorney General … said it would be virtually impossible to defend. I just think we’re not doing the taxpayer any favors when we go and pass bills that we know are unconstitutional, are going to get challenged. … We’ve paid millions in fees over the years when we do this.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “It is patently unconstitutional with respect to Idaho’s Constitution. This is going to cost the taxpayers of the state of Idaho, I don’t know, $250,000 bucks, $300,000, $400,000. I just want my constituents to know back home, this is not a vote against religion or the Bible or anything else. What this is a vote against is needlessly wasting the taxpayer’s dollars.”

Dixon thanked the House for the lively debate. “This is I believe what we’re here for, on these tough issues,” he said. He said, “I think what’s critical is we are not placing the Bible above any other text in doing this.” He said the reason the Bible is the only religious text that’s named in the bill is because “when you bring up the Bible, that’s when the uproar happens.” In the end, all but one House Democrat voted against the bill; the exception was Rep. Dan Rudolph, D-Lewiston. All but two House Republicans voted in favor of it; the exceptions were Wood and Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls. Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, missed the vote. The bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.

Dixon told the House, “The little Supreme Court in my head says this is OK.”

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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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