Legislature(1993 - 1994)

02/16/1994 03:00 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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  statute which would say that the use of a historical                         
  document cannot be construed to be the advocation of a                       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                             
  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.                                           

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