Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bible Study Pushed for Schools Religion Wrapped in Political Tug-of-War

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bible Study Pushed for Schools Religion Wrapped in Political Tug-of-War

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- After 125 pages, Gov. Roy Barnes' A-Plus Education Reform Act of 2000 is still missing one critical element for improving Georgia schools, if you ask Judy Craft: It's lacking a biblical perspective.

Craft wants to remedy what she considers the governor's oversight by lobbying for one of two bills introduced in the General Assembly that would approve the use of state funds for the teaching of a history and literature course based on the Bible. While others are debating making schools accountable to parents and the state, she'll spend the coming weeks of the 2000 session telling lawmakers about accountability to a higher authority.

Working just as hard will be Walter Bell, who'll try to convince legislators that taxpayer money shouldn't go toward supporting one religion or toward excluding the 1,999 others he says are practiced in Georgia. If a history course teaches that the events described in the Bible are true, then it also inherently offers the lesson that the beliefs of non-Christians cannot be true, he'll argue.

At a time when Barnes wants to build a groundswell of support for his sweeping reform bill, Craft and Bell claim thousands of supporters are preparing to descend on the Capitol like a swarm of locusts.

Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, a former teacher and sponsor in the Senate of one of the bills, dismisses any notion that the Bible debate will slow Barnes' bill more than the lobbyists for teacher groups, principals associations and the local superintendents' organization.

"The governor's bill has enough distractions of its own," he said.

Williams is teaming up in a bipartisan fashion with Rep. Tommy Smith, D-Alma, who introduced the House version. Twenty senators and 68 representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the bills.

The Smith-Williams bill is the version Craft likes, but some powerful House Democrats have joined House Education Committee Chairwoman Jeanette Jamieson in sponsoring a slightly different bill.

The Toccoa Democrat relies on a yet-to-be-written text that would draw lessons from the Bible, while Smith-Williams would sanction using the Bible itself as a student textbook. The Jamieson measure also would require the attorney general to review the course for legal pitfalls before it can be taught.

"This is a pretty tightly drawn bill because, obviously, we know that constitutionality could be a problem," Jamieson said.

Part of her concern is based on a warning issued by Attorney General Thurbert Baker on Nov. …

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