By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY-The House Education and Policy Committee passed HB133 late Wednesday. The bill, if it becomes law, will allow students in public school to receive credit for faith-based courses conducted off campus.
“They may have taken Christianity out of out schools but they have not taken it out of our lives,” said the bill’s sponsor Blaine Galliher (R-Gadsen). “We have a constitutional right to go off sight and teach what we believe to be the truth.”
Known as the “Alabama Released Time Credit Act” it would allow students who wish to receive some religious education during their school day the opportunity to attend alternate classes off campus.
According to Galliher, many states have implemented these types of programs dating back over 50 years. One successful example Galliher sights is in South Carolina.
The Alabama program that he has proposed is very closely model on the one in South Carolina.
The program in South Carolina was established in the early 1990s and was augmented in 2006 allowing students to receive classroom credit for successful completion.
“This is totally voluntary program and it gives parents an opportunity to have their children receive some religious instruction during their school days,” said Galliher.
In Alabama the only choice parents have to provided their children with any religious studies would be to send them to a private school.
Galliher, points out that the programs are offered at no cost to school systems or parents, that the local school boards would approve the programs and its instruction.
Galliher says that he was informed that Thomas Bice, Alabama’s State Superintendent of Education would began to notify school boards that they may participate in the program once it becomes law.
“All of this has to be approved by the local school boards,” said Galliher. “There is no state mandate, no one is being forced.”
Recently, some in the Alabama MSM have suggested that Mr. Galliher’s bill would be unconstitutional. Galliher takes exception to the characterization, pointing out that it is patently untrue.
In fact the constitutionality of Release Time Education was upheld by the Supreme Court in Zorach v. Clauson (1952). In his opinion, Justice William O. Douglas wrote, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. When the State encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it then follows the best of our traditions, for it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public services to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.”
The court’s opinion in Zorach v. Clauson did not rule on if credits could be granted for such classes.
This provision of the release time was challenged in South Carolina when a group of parents and students, along with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, filed suit against SCSD7. Galliher says, “It is important to note that the plaintiffs did not challenge the constitutionality of the law, only the credit portion.”
The Federal District Court for South Carolina found that the state’s credit portion did not violate the Federal laws.
“Some may disagree with me on the matter of science,” said Galliher, “but I do not pick up my constitutional rights going in the church house door and I don’t leave them coming out.”
The bill will now proceed to the full House and if passed while being carried to the State Senate.