Teenage students in Texas will soon have the option to take a Bible class without the strict boundaries of state standards and guidelines.
Members of the Texas State Board of Education gave the okay Friday for elective Bible classes to be offered in all public high schools, as long as they only focus on history, content, and influence of the Scripture.
The decision will allow districts to follow broad guidelines already in place for English and social studies classes, rather than specific rules set by the state.
"A school district has the right to choose their own Bible curriculum because they know their students best," board member Barbara Cargill said.
Legislators approved the Bible elective last year and about 25 Texas schools already offer the course.
Still, critics called the decision "deeply depressing," claiming it violates the constitutional rights of students in the 1,039 school Texas districts it affects.
"This is what happens when our elected officials put politics and personal agendas ahead of the interests of our school children and their families," said Ryan Valentine with the Texas Freedom Network, a group that follows the influence of religion in public policy.
Those favoring the new rule - adopted by the board with a 10-5 vote - argue the it says courses cannot "endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective."
"I think that's pretty specific," said Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation. "The constitutional safeguards are there."
The Bible course was put in place to teach biblical content and its influence in today's society. The new guidelines will go into effect Sept. 1.
Sources: The Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Texas Cable News