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State board to debate book that stirred lawmaker fight

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A legislative debate over which party could out-Bible the other moves to the State Board of Education on Thursday.

State Superintendent Joe Morton will discuss the "The Bible and Its Influence," published by Bible Literacy Project of Front Royal, Va.

The book is an approved text for elective high-school courses. It is one of 2,500 state textbooks the board approved at its kindergarten-12 board meeting Oct. 11.

The board unanimously approved the textbook list without questioning it. That is how Alabama became the first state in the country to adopt the text for statewide use, the book's publisher said.

The approval galled two Republican board members, Betty Peters of Dothan and Stephanie Bell of Montgomery.

Peters said she thought the book was adopted because it was "under the radar" of its opponents.

She and Bell spoke against the text at a 2006 legislative public hearing, which turned partisan.

That year, the Legislature considered a bill approving the book for use statewide without passing the usual scrutiny of the state Textbook Committee.

The Legislative fight came to a head during a February 2006 filibuster in the House.

Support for bill

Backing the bill were Democrats, House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, and House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill.

Angry Republicans charged that the Democrats were using the Bible as politics to block key votes on other bills.

Democrats did not have enough votes to override Republican objections to bringing up the bill. But Republicans were then faced with voting against the Bible in an election year.

"They are going to take this vote, and mail it out, and say we were against the Bible," Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said. "They got the vote they wanted."

Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, threatened to introduce a bill in the next session requiring that science books teach intelligent design if the Bible-as-literature-bill passed.

The bill failed.

During discussion before the Legislature that year, however, supporters said the book gives students the opportunity to see how the Bible influenced culture throughout history.

Alabama has allowed elective courses on the Bible for several years. Many public school teachers shy away from such courses, however, because of litigation fears.

Education Department spokesman Michael Sibley said at Thursday's work session, Morton will talk with board members about the process the state textbook committee used to develop the list of approved textbooks, and hear their comments.

Experienced teachers make up membership of the state textbook committee.

Even with the board's approval of the book, there is no requirement that local school systems use the text. Sibley said the approval simply gives "local education entities" authority to use the text, if they so choose in elective courses on the Bible for grades 10-12.

Publisher's figures show that about 163 schools in 35 states now use the book in classes on the Bible.

Education Department Classroom Improvement Director Anita Buckley-Commander is formerly of Decatur. She said the textbook committee's list of proposed textbooks was on the department's Web site for several months before the vote.

No one spoke against the text at public hearings held around the state, she said.

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