Monday, April 16, 2012

Alabama Bill

Alabama Bill Will Allow Churches To Teach Religion Classes To Public School Students

          According to an article in the Huffington post a bill was passed in Birmingham Alabama on that would allow churches or ministries to teach a religion class to public school students off campus, provided that the parents and the school board give permission and the church provides all the transportation and all the expenses.
            According to the article the bill was introduced by Republican state Rep. Blaine Galiher. The request for this bill was brought by 84 year old Joseph Kennedy. Kennedy had been fired from his position as a teacher for refusing to stop reading the Bible and teaching creationalism at the public school.
         Kennedy along with supporters formed a board of directors for a new institute for Biblical studies that also offers classes in creationalism.

         Under this Bill high school students would be offered a released-time class, which would allow students to go off campus to study creationalism and would be able to earn elective credits for doing so. Kennedy stated that this would “give students good sound scientific reasons to support their faith in the seven-day creation.”
          According to the article Thomas Berry, a Constitution law teacher at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis objected to the passing of the bill. He stated that the elective credits earned by the students in the released-time program under this bill could raise concerns about  public school involvement in religious education. Berry points out that one could argue the motivation as being religious, which could raise the courts suspicion. He was quoted as saying                                     “there is a certain suspicion in the courts of Alabama legislations trying to promote religion”.
         Berg asked the following questions "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."

           The article references two court cases. The first case occurred in 1952, where the U.S. Supreme court upheld a New York law allowing released-time from school for religious instruction, stating the religion classes were not held on public property or at the public expenses. However in 1948 four yours prior to the above mentioned case, the court had struck down a similar release-time law in Illinois, because the school was too involved in the administration of the classes.

          The questions that Berg addresses are legitimate questions that raise legitimate concerns about possible entanglement issues between the school and the religious institute. Generally released- time programs are held off school property, and the public school systems have no involvement in the religious programs taught off school property.The issue here is not the fact that the students are taking religious courses off campus, but the fact that these courses are being counted for extra credits. In a somewhat similar case ( Lemon v. Kurtzman)  that involved government funding and non-public schools the Court's decision established  the the Lemon Test.

      The Lemon Test- requirements for legislation concerning religion consisted of three prongs. 1- The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose, 2- The government’s action must not have the primary effects of either advancing or inhibiting religion, 3- The governments action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement with religion.  Violation of any one of these prongs would be deemed unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The question then becomes is government funding being used to support these extra credit religious classes? If the answer is yes, then I do believe there is “excessive entanglement” and is therefore unconstitutional.  Also by allowing these classes to count as extra credit classes is the school offering an incentive or endorsing the religion?

The Main/Landmark cases from the US Supreme Court seems to be

1.      Edwards V. Aguillard (1987)

2.      McLean V. Arkansas Board of Education (1982)

1 comment:

Angela S. said...

I think the best way to challenge the matter and determine whether or not the law is constitutional is to have other groups (other religions, political groups, and secular organizations that have distinct values they wish to impart) offer similar programs. If the school accepts these other groups with the same caveats about the parents having to sign off and the groups covering all the expenses then I see not problem with the law. If on the other hand the only groups that get to do this are Christian groups then it is obviously designed to promote a specific religion.