Idaho Governor Vetoes Bill Permitting Bible as Reference in Public Schools

OtterBOISE, Idaho — The Republican governor of Idaho has vetoed a bill that would permit the Bible to be used a for reference purposes in public school classrooms out of concern that it could result in a lawsuit.

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

As previously reported, S.B. 1342 was introduced earlier this year by the Senate Education Committee at the urging of Sen. Cheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, who also works as a high school teacher.

“The Bible is expressly permitted to be used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes to further the study of literature, comparative religion, English and foreign languages, United States and world history, comparative government, law, philosophy, ethics, astronomy, biology, geology, world geography, archaeology, music, sociology, and other topics of study where an understanding of the Bible may be useful or relevant,” the bill read as introduced.

It also noted that “[n]o student will be required to use any religious texts for reference purposes if the student or parents of the student object.”

The Committee later agreed unanimously to add a clarifier to the bill to outline that it also applies to other religious literature, and also to strike “astronomy, biology, geology” from the text of the proposal so that it cannot be interpreted as allowing the teaching of Creation in public school.

Following agreement on the amendments, the bill passed the full Senate by a 31-3 vote, and later was likewise approved by the House 54-15. The legislation was sent to Otter’s desk on March 24, where it remained until he issued his veto on April 5—the final day he was permitted to act.

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“S1342 violates the Idaho Constitution,” Otter wrote, pointing to a section that reads, “No sectarian or religious tenants or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools … No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools … nor shall any teacher or any district receive any of the public school monies in which the schools have not been taught in accordance with the provisions of this article.”

Nuxoll expressed her disappointment in Otter’s veto.

“People with last names like Washington, Adams, and Madison blatantly identified the Bible as that reference point. They feared not having it would result in corruption and misuse of taxpayer funds. Are they right?” she asked.

“I am disappointed in the Governor’s decision, although not too surprised,” also remarked Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Dixon. “S1342 was thoroughly vetted by both the House and the Senate, and passed each body overwhelmingly. Often good legislation is avoided because of what might happen, and the will of the people, through their representatives, is thereby ignored.”

“The Bible, in particular, is indispensable to correctly understanding the foundations of Western government and law,” he stated. “I will continue to advocate the merits of this bill in the future.”

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