Senate panel endorses Bible classes for public schools

Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, speaks at a press conference promoting legislation that would legalize casino gambling in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The Senate’s Education and Health Committee advanced legislation Thursday that would allow public high schools to offer an elective Bible study course.

The legislation is part of a nationwide push in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia, according to USA Today.

“It teaches a lot about all other religions. It teaches a lot about where people stand on the Christian faith. And it’s one of the fastest growing faiths in the country,” said the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson. “And if we’re going to be a country that reaches out to other communities then this is much needed.”

As first presented, the Virginia version of the bill would have mandated all public schools offer the course, but Carrico amended the legislation to make it optional at the discretion of local school boards.

A group of Baptist ministers spoke against the proposal. “This would be a decidedly backward step for religious liberty,” said Jonathan Davis, a pastor from Essex County.

Carrico expressed disappointment at their opposition. “I’m a little amazed,” he said. “They should read Matthew 7:22.”

The verse reads: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’”

The legislation passed on a 8-6-1 vote, with all the Democrats on the committee opposing except for Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, who abstained.

Carrico’s bill next goes to the full Senate for an up or down vote.