A few months ago, I posted about how the Freedom From Religion Foundation had sued the Mercer County Schools in West Virginia over an “elective” Bible class that had been offered for more than 75 years to students in elementary and middle school.
There’s a reason “elective” deserves to be in quotation marks. It wasn’t really optional. Students who didn’t take the class were bullied by their peers, and there were multiple indications that the District’s administration and staff wanted students to take the class. For example, they didn’t offer any alternative classes during the time the Bible was being taught.
In the case of one parent whose daughter didn’t take the class, the girl sat in the library reading a Harry Potter book, only to have a student come up to her and say, “You need to be reading the Bible.”
Maybe you dismiss that as kids being kids, but it’s much tougher to ignore the content of the class, which was less about teaching the Bible as literature and a book with historical impact and more about preaching religious myths as facts. You can read the full list of complaints right here, but the class promoted Creationism, required teachers to have a “degree in Bible” (whatever that means), and had a stated goal of helping students develop a “positive attitude towards biblical literature.”
If they taught the Qur’an the same way, Fox News Channel would never shut up about it.
Need more proof that this class belonged in a Sunday School rather than a public classroom? When a reporter asked the District if she could sit in on the classes, they wouldn’t let her. Perhaps they knew an outside observer would recognize the lack of objectivity.
The overt proselytization is why FFRF filed a lawsuit earlier this year to put a stop to the class. In May, the District said it would suspend the class for a year while administrators took another look at the curriculum. That sounds great… if you assume the District will make necessary changes. I don’t have that confidence. That’s why the lawsuit is necessary.
… the Bible in the Schools program of which plaintiffs’ complain is not currently offered nor will it be offered in the future. Furthermore, should a Bible in the Schools curriculum reemerge, the court has no information before it to determine the content of such a class. With “no facts before us to determine whether the [BITS program] might violate the Establishment Clause,” the court is left unable to engage in the context dependent inquiry of a future BITS curriculum. Therefore, until the Bible in the Schools curriculum that Jamie Doe will actually encounter “is presented in clean-cut and concrete form,” this action is not ripe for judicial review.
It’s all very convenient for the District. Suspend the program for a year. Get the lawsuit thrown out on a technicality. Bring the program back for a year in exactly the same form until someone sues again. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
FFRF sees through the loophole and says they will take the issue to a higher court.
FFRF and its plaintiffs are likely to appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, serving as co-counsel, noted that the school district has given no assurances it will not resume the inappropriate indoctrination.
“FFRF is fighting on behalf both of the Constitution and real-life human beings, including the youngest and the most vulnerable students,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes. “We will continue that battle without hesitation.”
The case was dismissed “without prejudice,” so FFRF is free to refile in the future if and when the classes resume, but it’s a hell of a lot of work they shouldn’t have to do since the problem hasn’t truly been resolved.
First Liberty Institute, the conservative legal group defending the District, applauded the decision but gave away the game in its press release.
Mercer County Schools is grateful to have this unfortunate lawsuit dismissed and remains committed to following the law as it provides diverse educational opportunities to its students. The Court rightly rejected the notion that teaching students about the Bible is always unconstitutional.
The question of whether “teaching students about the Bible” is legal isn’t what we’re talking about here. It’s not like FFRF sued over a “Bible as literature” class. They sued because the District’s Bible class was illegally indoctrinating students into Christianity. It went far beyond a secular, objective inquiry into the Bible, which would have been fine.
When your opponents have to lie about a case to justify their celebration, it’s more proof you were right all along.
I hope FFRF continues to challenge this class since it’s not going away and there’s no reason to think it’s suddenly becoming objective.
(via Religion Clause)