50,000 Alabama teachers receive religion guides

Thursday, August 18, 2005

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Two First Amendment Center booklets containing
instructions on handling religion in Alabama's public schools are being
distributed to some 50,000 teachers statewide by the Alabama Education

The state teachers union is distributing the 16-page “The Bible and Public
and the 20-page “A Teacher's Guide to Religion in Public Schools.” An
AEA spokesman, David Stout, said the goal was to dispel the notion that the
Bible and prayer aren't allowed in public schools.

Stout said yesterday no particular school event led AEA to distribute the
booklets. He said the group was encouraged to do it by the Montgomery-based
Redeem the Vote, a national voter-education organization chaired by Montgomery
physician Randy Brinson.

The booklets, Brinson said, give guidance so that “people of faith can talk
about their faith without fear of repercussions.”

The booklets advise an academic, not devotional, approach to religion.

Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center produced the teacher's guide
after U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley in 1999 suggested guidelines for
teachers. The Bible guide emerged from a First Amendment Center partnership with
the Bible Literacy Project.

Haynes has been the principal organizer and drafter of a series of consensus
guidelines on religious liberty in public education endorsed by a broad range of
civil liberties and educational organizations. In January 2000, three of these
guides were sent by President Clinton to every public school in the United

Olivia Turner of Montgomery, director of the American Civil Liberties Union
of Alabama, said yesterday she had not read the booklets and couldn't comment.
The AEA's distribution of the material was reported by New York Times regional
newspapers in Alabama.

According to Alabama Association of School Boards spokeswoman Sally Brewer
Howell, school boards already receive updates and training on religion issues in
schools to keep current on the law.

The AEA-distributed booklets emphasize that teachers and other school
employees are government employees who may not promote religion but may explain
its history, its place in ancient and modern times and the Bible in its various

Schools may strive to bring about awareness of but not conversion to
religion, the booklets say.

Schools also may sponsor religious studies but not the practice of religion,
and schools may expose students to diverse religions but may not impose,
discourage or encourage any particular religious view.

The guides also say schools may teach about religion but may not denigrate or
promote any particular one. Schools may inform students but not seek to conform
them to any particular belief.

The latest school-prayer guideline for Alabama is the 1999 11th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruling in a DeKalb County case that allows student-led prayers
and religious activities. The Atlanta-based court overturned a federal judge's
ruling in a 1996 lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of County vice principal
Michael Chandler over student-led religious events at his son's school. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 let the 11th Circuit ruling stand.

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