By Greg Garrison
Religion News Service
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) A bill in Alabama would allow churches or ministries to teach a religion class to public school students off campus, so long as parents and school boards give permission and the churches are responsible for transportation and any expenses.
State Rep. Blaine Galliher, a Republican, introduced the bill at the request of Joseph Kennedy, 84, who was fired in 1980 after he refused to stop reading the Bible or teaching creationism at a public school.
Under the plan, high school students could go off campus to study creationism and earn an elective credit. Kennedy said he wants to "give students good sound scientific reasons to support their faith in the seven-day creation."
Kennedy said he and supporters have formed a board of directors for a new Institute for Biblical Studies, which would offer a creationism class if a released-time class law were passed.
But Thomas Berg, who teaches constitutional law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, said the elective credits could raise concerns about public school involvement in religious education.
"Anyone challenging it in court will argue the motivation for it was religious," said Berg. "A court is probably going to look at that suspiciously. There is a certain suspicion in the courts of Alabama legislators trying to promote religion."
In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a New York law allowing release-time from school for religious instruction, saying the religion classes were not held on public property or at public expense.
But four years earlier, in 1948, the Supreme Court struck down a similar release-time law in Illinois because the school was too involved in the administration of the class.
"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?" Berg asked. "All those things would entangle the school."
(Greg Garrison writes for the Birmingham News in Birmingham, Ala. David White contributed to this report.)