An elective Bible course offered in West Virginia’s Mercer County Schools has been suspended for a year while administrators decide whether it’s actually legal, the result of a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Some background on the issue: The Mercer County Schools have been offering “elective” Bible courses at the elementary and middle school levels for the past 75 years, but students who don’t participate in the courses are basically treated like pariahs and bullied by their peers.
What made the courses illegal, in FFRF’s mind, wasn’t that the District was teaching about the Bible as literature. This was indoctrination, pure and simple, and their lawsuit laid out the evidence for that claim:
- The District requires that teachers of this course have “a degree in Bible,” whatever that means.
- One lesson “includes images of Jesus being whipped and tortured, Jesus’ scarred body dragging a cross, Jesus being nailed to a cross, and Jesus ascending into heaven.” (That goes far beyond the mere teaching of the Jesus story in a secular way.)
- The goals of the curriculum included helping students develop a “positive attitude towards biblical literature,” “harmonizing the Matthew and Luke accounts of the birth of Jesus,” and “harmonizing the four gospel accounts of the last days of Jesus.” Again, all are endorsements of the Bible.
- Students who opt out of the course are not necessarily receiving reasonable “alternative instruction” as the District requires.
- The curriculum promotes the false doctrine of Creationism, including the belief that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Here are some excerpts from the lessons:
“Moses was saying that when a dolphin had a little baby — it didn’t have a baby octopus. It had a baby dolphin that was like itself. When a shark had a baby — it didn’t have a baby eagle or a baby sea turtle — the shark had a baby shark that was like itself.”
“So picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”
“If all of the Israelites had chosen to follow the Ten Commandments, think of how safe and happy they would have been. They would never have been afraid someone would go into their tents and steal something. They would never have been afraid someone was lying about them. They would never have been afraid that anyone would hurt them — or someone they loved.”
(That last bit skipped the whole part about being put to death for working on the Sabbath.)
By no means was any of that legal.
There’s more information about the courses and the reactions from everyone involved here, but the District appears to be on track to lose this lawsuit.
Maybe that’s why they recently announced a major change.
“Since the Bible class is an elective, I would like to include community members and religious leaders along with our teachers in this process,” said Dr. Deborah Akers, superintendent of schools. “In order to conduct a thorough review, we need to allow at least a year to complete the task. Therefore, I am recommending that we suspend the elementary Bible classes until this review is completed.”
The suspension would apply to the middle school classes, too.
The District will still offer high schoolers an elective course on “The Bible and Its Influence” next year, but that course has been taught elsewhere without problems. (It’s easy to make a secular case for that one, assuming it’s taught objectively.)
In the meantime, the District is still trying to dismiss FFRF’s lawsuit. There will be a hearing on that matter on June 19.
FFRF says it’s pleased with the District’s decision to suspend the elementary school class, but the group’s not done fighting this issue just yet.
FFRF is pleased at this first step in addressing long-standing violations of the constitutional rights of children and parents. Starting this fall, it appears that students will receive an appropriate education free from religious instruction within the Mercer County public schools system. Contending that the bible classes are not legally defensible, FFRF will continue to pursue all legal remedies available against the school system to ensure compliance with the First Amendment.
“The Supreme Court has spoken directly on this type of public school indoctrination and has ruled that public schools may not engage in it,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religion in schools builds walls between children and leads to ostracism of minorities — as experienced by our plaintiff Elizabeth Deal, who had to remove her child from the school.”
As I’ve said before, Christians would be freaking out if the Qur’an were being taught in the same preachy way the Bible is right now in this District. They don’t need a year to figure out if a line was crossed. Just substitute another religion in the place of Christianity, and this would be obvious. Even if this year-long review is just a stalling tactic, I suspect they’ll realize how much trouble they’re in and find a way to quietly put an end to the classes.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)