The Alabama Creation Battle
The sponsorship of scientific creationism in Alabama and its major opposition both came from Huntsville, a city with a population of 145,000, whose primary industry is technical work for NASA and the U.S. Army. It is also the site of two state-supported colleges-the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and Alabama A & M University.
The organized creationist push in Alabama started in 1980 with the formation of Alabama Citizens for Quality in Education by Byron Tabor, a fundamentalist minister, and his wife. The group was successful in getting a creationist resolution passed in December by the Madison County School Board. In January, they received a more negative reaction from the school board of neighboring Huntsville, where two citizens spoke out against the resolution.
The creationist group next approached the Madison County legislative delegation at a citizens' forum sponsored each year by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), preceding the opening of the legislative session. The creationists packed the Huntsville City Council chambers with 250 supporters and followed up their presentation to the legislators with a rally at the court house. A standard model bill was subsequently introduced in both houses by Senator Albert McDonald and Representative Frank Riddick, both of Huntsville. Byron Tabor registered as a paid lobbyist in favor of the bill.
As a result of the publicity, three independent but cooperating opposition groups appeared in Huntsville. Dr. William Morgan, a United Methodist minister, collected the names of fifty local clergymen who opposed scientific creationism. He wanted to demonstrate that the issue was not a matter of Christians v. atheistic scientists. Dr. Jeffrey Hindman, an ophthalmologist, represented a group of fifty medical doctors who financed the publication of anti-creationist newspaper ads. He and Dr. Morgan organized an anti-creationist forum, held at the First United Methodist Church and attended by 350 people. Speakers included four Christian clergymen, a representative of the Jewish community, and three members of the science faculty of UAH. It was this meeting that showed the press and the public that there was actual opposition to the bill from responsible members of the community. Prior to it, nearly everyone seemed to be favoring the
legislation. The broadcast and print media picked up on this event immediately and gave it all the coverage it deserved.
This author organized the Alabama Coalition for Responsible Education, which circulated petitions and generated letter writing to the local legislative delegation. A study committee composed of scientists from UAH and NASA studied creationist books. It wrote a negative report about the proposed bill, creationism in general, and the book, Origins—Two Models, by Richard Bliss, the only creationist textbook approved for use in Alabama. Another committee prepared a collection of information for the education committee, including these reports and the study performed by the Iowa Department of Public Instruction.
An open hearing was held by the House Education Committee on March 18 with the Senate Education Committee invited. Since approximately thirty people appeared to speak on each side, the chairman, Peter Turnham of Auburn, allowed only two major speakers for each side. Subsequent speakers were limited to three minutes. The lead speakers for the creationists were Richard Bliss and Wendell Bird, lawyer for the Institute for Creation Research. The lead speakers for the opposition were Dr. Hindman and Dr. Nicholas Hotton, research curator in paleontology at the Smithsonian Institution, whose trip was financed by the medical doctors. Additional opponents included six clergymen, faculty members from the University of Alabama and Auburn University, and technical people. The hearing lasted six hours.
The sponsors of the bill had apparently not expected such extensive opposition and negotiated a "compromise with state education officials. The weakened bill would "encourage the equitable treatment" of scientific creationism and evolution rather than require them to be taught equally. Its major provision was to train science teachers in scientific creationism. The bill required science texts to clearly state that evolution is a theory and "encouraged" the inclusion of creationist materials in school libraries.
The substitute bill was accepted and passed without opposition by the Senate Education Committee. In the House Education Committee, both versions were filibustered to death by Robert Albright of Huntsville, a former biology teacher. Creationist hopes remained alive when Riddick announced his intent to maneuver the potential Senate-passed bill to a more favorable House committee. McDonald used his position as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee to place the bill on a priority calendar intended for noncontroversial bills. The tactic failed, and the bill reached the floor late in the session, when it could be forwarded to the House only by a suspension of the Senate rules. Three objecting senators could prevent this. When it was obvious that the necessary opposition existed, the bill was withdrawn without a vote.
The battle is not over, however. Special sessions of the legislature on reapportionment and an education budget will be held later this year, allowing for further attempts to push creationism.