Credit-for-creationism scheme dies in Alabama

When the last day of the regular legislative session of the Alabama legislature ended on May 16, 2012, a bill that would have established a credit-for-creationism scheme died. House Bill 133, if enacted, would have authorized "local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students." Its sponsor, Blaine Galliher (R-District 30), explained his purpose in introducing the bill to WAFF in Huntsville, Alabama (February 5, 2012): "They teach evolution in the textbooks, but they don't teach a creation theory ... Creation has just as much right to be taught in the school system as evolution does and I think this is simply providing the vehicle to do that."

The Birmingham News (February 17, 2012) later reported that Galliher introduced the bill at the behest of Joseph Kennedy, a former teacher who "was fired in 1980 for reading the Bible and teaching creationism at Spring Garden Elementary School when parents of the public school sixth-grade students objected and he refused to stop." Kennedy indicated that he and his supporters were poised to offer a course on creationism in their local school district, using a Bible with notes by the Institute for Creation Research's Henry Morris to "give students good sound scientific reasons to support their faith in the seven-day creation and the young Earth," if the bill passed.

While released time programs are generally constitutionally permissible, a controversial feature of HB 133 was its allowing local boards of education to award course credit for participating in religious education. A case currently before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Robert Moss et al. v. Spartanburg County School District No. 7, concerns a local school district's implementation of the South Carolina Released Time Credit Act, enacted in 2006, which similarly awards course credit for participating in released time religious education. Besides the question of the bill's constitutionality, the state board of education opposed the bill when it was introduced as HB 568 in 2011, according to WAFF.

HB 133 was passed by the House Education Policy Committee on February 29, 2012, and was expected to receive a floor vote in the House shortly thereafter. The Alabama Academy of Science issued a position statement in March 2012, saying that HB 133 "would undermine the science instruction that students receive on campus and which is presently guided by the Alabama Course of Study in Science" and that "the introduction of classroom subject content through the political process not only violates the academic freedom of the subject specialists to determine relevant and scientifically sound concepts, but also represents an inappropriate and potentially dangerous precedent for American public education."