Here’s a new approach to trying to get creationism into public schools. An Alabama legislator has submitted a bill to allow schools to offer academic credit for a released time program of creationist instruction that would take place off school property.
A bill introduced in the Alabama Legislature has proposed allowing churches or ministries to teach a religion class off campus, if parents and school boards give permission and the churches are willing to be responsible for transporting and teaching students and covering any expenses.
Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Rainbow City, said he introduced the bill at the request of Kennedy, a member of his district.
“This is legislation that has been adopted in several states: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Idaho, just like this,” said Galliher, sponsor of House Bill 133 and chairman of the agenda-setting House Rules Committee. He said he modeled the bill after laws in other states. “It’s already been litigated all the way through the court system, so it’s constitutional.”
Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, said Galliher’s bill would be debated the week of Feb. 28 in the House of Representatives’ Education Policy Committee, which she chairs.
“It looks like it’s a very viable way to offer some elective courses for kids that have many opportunities for electives,” McClurkin said. “To me, this would be a real good one, to be able to study religion.”
Galliher is wrong about other states having such policies. Other states do have released time programs, but not for teaching creationism and not for academic credit. Doug Laycock, one of the top First Amendment religion clause experts in the country, says he has never heard of such a law:
CARSEN: In your career, have you come across other new bills similar to this one?
LAYCOCK: No. There’s a steady stream of bills to try to get more religion in the public schools, but this is the first bill I’ve seen that does anything like this.
Laycock also rightly says that the law would be unconstitutional:
CARSEN: The impression that I was given was that this had all been litigated already. But the fact that we’re talking about a course for credit, that’s not true then.
LAYCOCK: That is not true, no. It seems to me the risk here is that they’re giving academic credit for something that’s appropriate to a church but not appropriate to a school.
CARSEN: I interviewed the sponsor of the Alabama bill yesterday. He wants it to be a course in creation as a balance against evolution.
LAYCOCK: I think that should not be constitutional. Despite all the political rhetoric, there is essentially no scientific evidence for creationism. The only scientific debate is about the details and mechanisms of evolution. So a course in creationism is essentially promoting a religious belief, and the state is supposed to stay neutral on questions of religious belief and leave us free to decide those questions for ourselves.
CARSEN: And granting that credit, that would be stepping over the line of neutrality?
LAYCOCK: I think so. And obviously that’s the central issue here. But I think the state should not be granting credit for instruction in religion, either from a believing perspective or from a non-believing perspective. The only state credit for religion courses should be objective study of what each of the great religions does or teaches…
CARSEN: So there’s a potential entanglement of teacher accreditation or school standards, and that could actually represent more government control over, say, a church.
LAYCOCK: There’d be an entanglement problem with the school trying to regulate these courses, trying to tell the churches what kind of religion course they can offer. That’s the kind of problem that the court sometimes describes as entanglement, but it’s really a problem of the state interfering inside the church, and that’s generally unconstitutional. But here, if you don’t interfere in that way, if you don’t regulate what the church does with this course, then you wind up giving academic credit for something that is not academic at all, but is inherently religious.
I almost hope this passes so it can get knocked down in court and prevent other states from trying the same thing.