An Alabama Rep. introduced a bill Friday to allow churches and ministries to hold off-campus religion classes for public school students. He said the request for the measure came from a former school teacher in his district who was fired for reading the Bible and teaching creationism.
Republican Rep. Blaine Galliher from Rainbow City sponsored the bill at the request of Joseph Kennedy, an 84-year-old member of his district, who was terminated in 1980 for reading the Bible and teaching creationism at Spring Garden Elementary School, al.com reported Friday.
Rep. Galliher, a member of Chandler Mountain Baptist Church, said similar legislation had been adopted in several states, including Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Idaho. "It's already been litigated all the way through the court system, so it's constitutional," said Galliher, chairman of the agenda-setting House Rules Committee.
House Bill 133 proposes that churches and ministries willing to cover costs and provide transportation be allowed to teach a one-hour elective course off campus with permission from parents and school boards. The proposal is likely to be debated in the House of Representatives' Education Policy Committee in late February.
"It looks like it's a very viable way to offer some elective courses for kids that have many opportunities for electives," Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, a Republican from Indian Springs who chairs the committee, said. "To me, this would be a real good one, to be able to study religion."
Kennedy, a member of Southside Baptist Church, and his supporters have formed a board of directors for the Institute for Biblical Studies, which he says would offer a creationism class if the measure is passed.
However, Galliher's move is likely to face opposition. "A court is probably going to look at that suspiciously," Thomas Berg, constitutional law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, warned, according to al.com. "There is a certain suspicion in the courts of Alabama legislators trying to promote religion."
However, if a statute is neutral in its terms, "that's a point in its favor," he added.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom of Religion Foundation has also raised objections, arguing that creationism has "nothing to do with science."