An Arizona lawmaker is pushing to create a high school course about the Bible and its role in Western culture with a bill that threatens to drop the state into a constitutional dilemma over the separation of church and state.

At least five other states — all in the Bible Belt — have passed similar legislation and the bill’s sponsor says students would benefit from the course because biblical references are everywhere.

Critics say the proposal is unnecessary and divisive and could be unconstitutional because it “sets aside Christianity as a preferred religion.”

Republican Rep. Terri Proud of Tucson sponsored the measure, which asks the state Board of Education to design a course called “The Bible and its Influence on Western Culture.” The course would be an elective at high schools that choose to offer it.

Public schools across the country have generally avoided Bible courses, but hundreds offer such classes as electives.

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