Legislature(1993 - 1994)
02/16/1994 03:00 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 339 - NO CENSORSHIP: AMERICAN HISTORY DOCUMENT Number 448 REP. PETE KOTT, Prime Sponsor of HB 339, stated that in current statute there is a section that would allow public funding to be withheld from a school or teacher that advocates a "partisan, sectarian, or denominational doctrine" during school hours. He said a copy of the statute (AS 14. 03.090) was included in the committee bill packets. He felt that the statute had a detrimental effect on the teacher's willingness to supply students with primary source material from the earliest days of our country, which contain explicit religious language. REP. KOTT stated that HB 339 would add a new section to the statute which would say that the use of a historical document cannot be construed to be the advocation of a "partisan, sectarian, or denominational doctrine." He said that the proposal would allow teachers to feel free to supply students with primary source material without fear of jeopardizing their school's funding. REP. KOTT explained that the proposal applies equally to Alaskan history and referred to the prayers from the opening days of Alaska's constitutional convention. He said the legislation also applies to Native groups, whose history cannot be separated from their religion and culture. He felt the proposal would also encourage the use of primary source material in the teaching of history. REP. KOTT stressed the importance of HB 339 by stating that the prevailing concern over church-state separation has led to a situation where source documents which were commonly included in textbooks are now routinely left out. In some cases they still appear, but religious references are deleted. He felt that, as a result, many students receive an entirely erroneous understanding of the thought and mood of the 17th and 18th century. REP. KOTT offered an example. He said until recently high school history textbooks included discussions of the Great Awakening because it was a time of important social change in our country. Often, the texts would include Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon, "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God." He said the sermon typified the preaching of the era and knowledge of it helps a student to better understand the period and the debates that occurred in it. He indicated that the textbook, "Triumph of the American Nation," dismisses the Great Awakening with a single brief paragraph. REP. KOTT said HB 339 does not require the use of Edwards' sermon or any other document in Alaska public schools. He said the proposal would ensure that a teacher would not be penalized for acquainting a student with such documents. REP. KOTT indicated that a copy of the Mayflower Compact was in members' bill packets and he could not acquire a copy of the document from any history book that is used for instruction in the state of Alaska. He also said that legal services said the proposal would not violate the constitution. Number 653 CHAIR BUNDE asked if Rep. Kott knew of any Alaskan teacher that has been prevented from using certain documents, or if the proposal was addressing past problems and potential future problems. Number 667 REP. KOTT agreed that HB 339 was addressing past problems and would preempt future problems. He further stated that the Pledge of Allegiance may face future threat. Number 685 CHAIR BUNDE asked if the legislation here in Alaska would affect those who write the history textbooks. Number 697 REP. KOTT was not sure how particular texts are chosen for a curriculum. He also suggested that perhaps teachers were providing some of the unavailable text at their own expense. Number 725 REP. TOOHEY felt it was important to know the position of the Department of Education (DOE) before any action is taken on the proposed legislation. Number 730 SHEILA PETERSON, Special Assistant to Commissioner Covey, Department of Education, stated that the DOE has not formally taken a position on HB 339. She said that concerns were expressed as to whether it is necessary to have this in statute. She also stated that by listing documents that are thought to be censored, a document that may be desired may have been inadvertently left off the list. Number 751 REP. TOOHEY asked if the committee could put some pressure on DOE to take a position. Number 757 MS. PETERSON said that she could relay the concern to Commissioner Covey. Number 764 REP. BRICE asked if there were specific textbooks available that have religiously specific language in them. He asked if there were a specific set of textbooks being disallowed due to state statute. Number 782 REP. KOTT said he was unsure. He said what he felt was being restricted was the opportunity to "dig in" to the documents into detail. He referred to George Washington's Farewell Address and stated that some teachers may be hesitant to use the document in fear of losing funding. Number 817 REP. BRICE said he was not sure that the constraints for the university system were the same as those for K-12. Number 837 VERNON MARSHALL, Executive Director, National Education Association/Alaska, stated that the NEA/AK did not have a prepared statement on HB 339, but urged the committee to oppose the legislation. He stated that he was unaware of any teacher having to omit historical information or text from any historical material. He said he did support the concept of separation of church and state. He further stated that America is a nation of many religious backgrounds, but he felt that under the principle of academic freedom the documents would be considered literary history and not an opportunity to promote religion. MR. MARSHALL referred to page 2, line 12, of the proposal and said he did not understand the definition of "organic documents" of the American colonies. He further indicated that page 2, line 3, allows that an "historical document used as a part of the public school curriculum may be used in whole or in part, but may not be altered to remove religious or secular references, when the religious or secular references are part of the text of the historical document." He inquired as to the definition of historical document. He also said page 2, line 9, indicates that a teacher may not be disciplined for using such a document. He felt the proposal was broad. Number 953 REP. VEZEY read the meaning of organic from a dictionary: designating or pertaining to the fundamental laws and principles of a government or organization. Number 959 CHAIR BUNDE referred to the Organic Acts as establishing many governments and states. CHAIR BUNDE then took a brief at-ease at 4:53 p.m. CHAIR BUNDE reconvened at 4:55 p.m. and read the calendar for the following day. Number 001 JACK PHELPS, Legislative Aid to Rep. Pete Kott, said the essential paragraph in the proposal was page 2, line 6, and said the mere use of document cannot be construed as advocating a religious position. He said nothing in HB 399 prevents a district from identifying a teacher who is using the document as a platform to advocate sectarian or religious beliefs. Number 031 CHAIR BUNDE deferred to the pleasure of the committee. Number 039 REP. VEZEY made a motion to pass HB 339 out of committee with individual recommendations. Number 043 REP. TOOHEY objected and said she would like to hear from the DOE before the proposal is passed out of committee. She felt if there was not a necessity for the legislation then it should not be passed out. Number 053 CHAIR BUNDE called for the roll. Representatives Bunde, Gary Davis, Vezey, Kott, Brice voted yea, and Rep. Toohey voted nay. Chair Bunde stated that HB 339 passed out of committee with individual recommendations. Seeing no further business before the committee, CHAIR BUNDE ADJOURNED the meeting at 5:00 p.m.