BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a Bible-in-schools bill 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. But he added that allowing the bill to become law “is in direct contravention to the Idaho Constitution.”
Idaho’s constitution specifically forbids “books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character” from being used in Idaho schools.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, argued the Bible is “not a sect or a denomination, since it’s used by everyone.” Nuxoll told a Senate committee she considers the Bible to be “universal.”
After a Senate committee hearing that stretched for more than two hours, senators amended the bill to add other “religious texts” than just the Bible. It read: “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 in astronomy, biology and geology classes. The bill said the Bible could be used in literature, comparative religion, history, music, ethics and philosophy classes, among others.
When the full Senate passed the amended bill, Nuxoll said, “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, by a 31-3 vote in the Senate and 54-15 in the House.
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