Morgan County students would not have to pass or take a religious test to enroll in an online Bible class that a North Carolina private college may offer to help the school district comply with new state laws, the college's president said.
Piedmont International University President Charles Petitt was responding to a second letter from the the Freedom From Religion Foundation objecting to the proposed class.
Attorney Ryan Jayne of the Wisconsin-based organization wrote the additional letter regarding the school system on Friday, saying that Morgan County “must not go forward” with any kind of plan to forge a partnership with Piedmont.
Jayne alleged in the letter that Petitt has made public comments that the college would ask students who take the online course to “acknowledge that Piedmont is a Christian university” and that Piedmont teaches classes “from a Biblical perspective,” which the lawyer said violate the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.
“This is an outright admission that the proposed class will not be taught from a secular perspective,” Jayne wrote.
Meanwhile, Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said again Monday that the school system does not have any agreement with Piedmont International University and that the district’s attorney would be responding to any concerns expressed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Petitt said Monday that he doesn't deny making comments about the university’s long-standing history or what the college has traditionally required of students, but added that no Morgan County student “will have a religious test put on them.”
He said the school district will set the rules about what students have to do to take online classes and whether they will receive credit for the work.
Morgan County — like school systems statewide — is trying to comply with two new laws relating to Bible classes.
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, sponsored a bill that allows students, at their own expense, to take religious courses off campus during the school day and earn elective credit. Students have to provide their own transportation to and from the class.
A second bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, requires school systems to make available elective social studies courses on the Bible.
The Alabama State Department of Education is required to develop guidelines and courses in four possible areas: Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament of the Bible; Greek Scriptures of the New Testament of the Bible; a course combining the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament and the Greek Scriptures of the New Testament; and religious history.
Decatur City has not received any requests from students for the class, according to Superintendent Michael Douglas. Hartselle City Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said a few students have inquired about the class, but none have requested to enroll. She said Hartselle plans to offer the class as an elective dual enrollment history class through Calhoun Community College.
Hopkins said Morgan County Schools held a public meeting to gauge interest, but no students have requested to take an online Bible class.
“We’re still seeing if there is any interest,” he said, adding that anything Morgan County does will comply with the law and guidelines the school system has received from state Superintendent Eric Mackey.
“My attorneys will handle that,” he said, about the second letter Freedom From Religion sent on Friday.
In a July 31 memo, Mackey warned local superintendents to “be mindful” because the new laws require them to comply with laws “regarding maintaining religious neutrality.”
Jayne said he sent the second letter because Petitt’s public comments confirm “the bias of their teachers and they are not fit to teach a public school class about the Bible.”
He wrote: “Our previous letter strongly urged the district to cancel this proposed class, but now that (Piedmont) has confirmed that the class will be unconstitutional it must be canceled.”