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Credit-for-creationism scheme passes committee

Alabama's House Bill 133 — which would, if enacted, "authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students" — was passed by the House Education Policy Committee on February 29, 2012, according to the Birmingham News (February 29, 2012). Its sponsor, Blaine Galliher (R-District 30), previously explained his motivation for 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."

While released time programs are generally constitutionally permissible, a controversial feature of HB 133 is its allowing local boards of education to award course credit for participating in religious education. In 2009, a local school district in South Carolina was sued for its implementation of such a policy pursuant to the South Carolina Released Time Credit Act, enacted in 2006; in 2011, the trial court held that the policy was constitutional and granted summary judgment to the school district. But the plaintiffs appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and oral arguments are scheduled to begin on March 20, 2012. The case is Robert Moss et al. v. Spartanburg County School District No. 7.

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. But the only concern reported by the Birmingham News was about the educational appropriateness of the scheme. Phil Williams (R-District 6), the vice chair of the House Education Policy Committee, was described as saying that what schools need is courses in mathematics and science: "The future jobs are in that area." Williams added, "I can't imagine us putting school children on a bus and sending them to a mosque to learn about the Koran. Or pick your religion." HB 133 could be considered by the House "as soon as next week," the newspaper reported.