Senate denies bill on Bible scripture to include other religions and texts

Senator Stephen Baldwin, (D-Greenbrier), listens to floor debate during the Tim Tobew Act third reading in the senate chambers at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston on Tuesday. (Chris Jackson/The Register-Herald)

The West Virginia Senate beat back at attempt on Tuesday on a 15-19 vote along party lines to include all sacred texts and religions in a bill that would allow elective courses on the instruction of the Bible in public high schools. 

A similar amendment was attempted when the bill was making its way through the West Virginia House of Delegates last week, but also failed.

House Bill 4780 would allow local county school boards the option to require the elective be taught in their district. It would also allow students to be taught the contents of the text in an objective manner that would not promote a religion, emphasizing the history, philosophy, law and culture of the religion.

A similar bill passed through the Senate last week. Senate Bill 38, which would allow for the same elective, would include all sacred texts and comparative religion as spelled out in an amendment by Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier. However, the bill has not made its way out of the House Education committee since passing the Senate.

Baldwin offered the same amendment Tuesday to the House's version of the bill, but it did not have the same fate. He expressed his confusion to his former senators who questioned his amendment by pointing out they passed a bill in the Senate including all sacred texts and comparative religions only six days ago. 

"Why are we back here doing this again?," Baldwin asked. "This passed 34 to nothing just six days ago, and it passed 15 to two in committee. There was a suggestion we should just name another bill another time to specific texts, but respectfully that misses the point."

Baldwin said when specific texts are named, others are excluded. The point, he said, should be to be broad and inclusive — not to name specific texts, but to name sacred texts generally. 

"We did so and that passed this body 34 to none just six days ago," Baldwin said. "It was the right thing to do. I think that's why it passed the body, and I'm hopeful we're going to have that support for it again. If the bill is to promote religious literacy, then we have to do so in a broad way that allows the perspective of various religions to be included. You can't promote one religion and then promote religious literacy."

Because his deals with inter-religious dialogue, with Baldwin said he felt compelled to stand before fellow senators Tuesday with the amendment. 

"It's a difficult thing, and it's an important thing," Baldwin said. "You have to be careful. You cannot promote one religion and say you're doing religious literacy, it doesn't work that way. That's not what our country was founded upon."

"I'd urge support of this," Baldwin said. "I thought this would be a pretty simple, straightforward vote."

Baldwin's amendment ultimately failed. Those who voted with Baldwin on his amendment included Sens. Beach, Facemire, Hamilton, Hardesty, Ihlenfeld, Jeffries, Lindsay, Palumbo, Plymale, Prezioso, Romano, Stollings, Unger and Woelfel. 

Lawmakers who voted against the amendment to include anything other than just the Bible included Sens. Blair, Boley, Clements, Cline, Mann, Maroney, Maynard, Pitsenbarger, Roberts, Rucker, Smith, Swope, Sypolt, Takubo, Tarr, Trump, Weld, and Carmichael. 

The bill will be up for a final reading in the Senate Wednesday. 

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