Kentucky just passed a law allowing Bible classes in public schools

A new Kentucky law will clear the way for Bible study courses to be implemented in the state's public schools, but watchdog groups are concerned about its potential to infringe on religious liberties.

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed House Bill 128 into law. Also known as the "Bible Literacy law," it will require the Kentucky Board of Education to institute "an elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament or a combination of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible" — among other mandates.

At the bill signing, local outlet WDRB reported that Bevin said that he didn't know "why every state would not embrace this, why we as a nation would not embrace this."

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A Ten Commandants monument is seen in a fenced-off section of Oklahoma State Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, September 30, 2015. The Republican Party of Oklahoma has offered a home to a Ten Commandments monument soon to be removed from Capitol grounds for violating state law, saying its teaching are espoused by the party, officials said on Thursday. Picture taken September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz
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Historical marker at Fort Boonesborough regarding first official Christian service held in Kentucky in 1775. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Cameron Reed of Wichita, Kansas and Linda Capabianco stand with a large replica of the Ten Commandments in front of the Georgia capitol in Atlanta, Georgia, September 29, 2003 as part of the "Spirit of Montgomery" protest to allow the Ten Commandments to remain in federal and state buildings across the country.The protests began after the removal of a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama. REUTERS/Tami Chappell TLC
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The Dalai Lama (C) sits on a stage during a ceremony at the largest Buddhist monument in the U.S., The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, September 17, 2006. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES)

"You could be an atheist, and you would appreciate there's a lot of wisdom in the Bible," he added.

Kate Miller, the advocacy director for the Kentucky ACLU, said in an interview on Thursday that the bill has been on the organization's radar for some time now.

"Our concern with the bill is that, even though it may not be unconstitutional on its face, the law could become unconstitutional in its implementation," Miller said. "We believe that the constitutionality of the law hinges on the way it's implemented and the way it's taught in classrooms."

One of the big questions the ACLU will look at as the new law is rolled out, according to Miller, is how the concerns of parents or students who object to or are critical of the Bible will be handled. The worst case scenario, she said, would be public school teachers proselytizing within the classroom — "preaching rather than teaching," as she put it.

"I think we have a responsibility to really be vigilant when it comes to these types of issues when it comes to the first amendment," Miller said. "The ACLU has a long history of dealing with religious liberty and its intersection with First Amendment speech — we always encourage parents and students, if they feel their rights are being infringed upon, to save those worksheets and homework and share those with us."

Kentucky is a red state, and also a deeply religious one: According to a recent Pew survey, 76% of the adults in Kentucky identify as Christians.

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