Beginning Sept. 1, Alabama public schools may offer elective courses in the Bible and religious history under the provisions of Alabama Act 2019-508, adopted by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey in June.
Under the law local school boards have authority to approve content and curriculum for courses in “the objective study of the Bible and religious history in grades six to 12” in accordance with Alabama law and Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) guidelines.
Alabama State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey issued general recommendations to schools regarding the courses in a July 31 memo noting the new law “requires compliance with applicable law regarding maintaining religious neutrality.”
Mackey said school leaders should be selective in choosing teachers for such courses to “be certain that the teacher understands the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the government from endorsing a religion but does not prohibit teaching about religion.”
A separate bill, Alabama Act 2019-281, or the Alabama Released Time Credit Act, authorizes local school boards to allow K–12 students to leave campus to participate in religious instruction in an elective course by a private entity. Under the law students may earn elective credit for classes taken during the released time. Under this legislation no public funds may be expended nor can public school personnel be involved in providing the religious instruction.
In an educational update on the legislation Eric Johnston, president and general counsel of the Southeast Law Institute, said the state school board and local boards of education must pass policies on the Alabama Released Time Credit Act before public school students can begin taking advantage of it. He said the law requires the ALSDE to adopt a policy but local boards do not have the same mandate.
“It is up to parents and church leaders in the community to persuade their local board of education to implement the policy,” Johnston said.
To view the full text of the religious education bills and related documents visit tabonline.org/Bible-in-schools. (TAB)
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