School’s out for… Creationism?

A bill has been introduced in the Alabama legislature that would allow school boards to approve off-campus classes on creationism that would count as an elective credit for any participating students. Republican Representative Bill Galliher proposed the legislation after being approached by Joseph Kennedy, 84, who was fired from an elementary school in 1980 for teaching creationism and reading from the Bible.

The bill would allow interested religious groups to approach a school board about teaching a creationism class off-campus, but during school hours. The religious group would have to take on all costs and liabilities as well as provide transportation for the students. The class would be optional and would count as one elective credit. Whether or not a group could participate would be at the school board’s discretion.

In 1952, the Supreme Court decided that schools could allow release time programs for religious studies, because they did not take place on public property or cost the tax payers a dime. A previous decision had abolished a similar practice, but only because the school had become heavily involved in its administration.

This law is interesting because it seems to meet the requirements given in the 1952 decision, but does offering school credit cross a line? Thomas Berg, a constitutional law professor at the University of St Thomas in Minneapolis, says it might. In an interview with Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News, Berg asked, “Is the religious teacher going to certify that the student passed? Would the school do any review of that? Would they monitor the class for quality to ensure it would warrant a public school credit? All those things would entangle the school.”

Rep Galliher has stated that since evolution is the prevailing school of thought in public education, the alternative should also be presented. But Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia’s School of Law told Southern Education Desk Reporter Dan Carsen, “Despite all the political rhetoric, there is essentially no scientific evidence for creationism. The only scientific debate is on the details and mechanisms of evolution. So a course in creationism is essentially promoting a religious belief.”

And one can’t help but wonder if any religious group could teach such a class. Galliher used Judaism as an example of a non-Christian group that the school board might approve, but their beliefs come from the same texts that Christians use. Would an Islamic group be allowed to participate? Where do you draw the line? And what criteria would the school board use to determine who is qualified and who isn’t?

Finally, if the class is completely optional and only counts as an elective credit, then isn’t it likely that the only attendants would be those who are already learning creationism in their churches?

Oddly enough, I’m not just dead-set against this. I want to be objective about it — if it really is constitutionally allowable, then let them do it. But I’m not crazy about it, and I see how this could quickly get out of hand. For instance, would the students who don’t participate still be allowed to continue their day uninterrupted? Or will they be left in a “study hall” while the vast majority of their classmates go to the class?

It’s an interesting issue. If you have thoughts about it, feel free to share them — I’d like to hear what you think.

Sources and links for further reading:
http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2012/02/alabama_legislation_proposes_o.html
http://www.wbhm.org/News/2012/GalliherInterview.html
http://wbhm.org/News/2012/LaycockInterview.html
http://wbhm.org/News/2012/carsen0221.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/alabama-bill-religion-class_n_1294976.html
http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/02/17/alabama-latest-state-to-attempt-teaching-creationism-to-public-school-students/

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