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Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Bible Class in Public School

January 12th, 2018


A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the legality of a weekly Bible class because the class is no longer being taught.

A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the legality of a weekly Bible class because the class is no longer being taught.

A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit by two West Virginia residents and the Freedom from Religion Foundation that challenged the legality of a weekly Bible class in elementary and middle schools located in Mercer County, West Virginia, because the class is no longer being taught. United States District Judge David A. Faber argued that if the course were to again become part of the classroom curriculum, the court could issue an injunction to prohibit the class if it violated the First Amendment. The legal opinion argued that the case had become pointless because the course in question was no longer offered at the school. As a result, the opinion was made without the judge deciding whether or not the course was constitutional.

The History of the Case

The case was initiated by two parents of students. One of the parents kept their daughter out of the Bible class and later transferred the child to a nearby school district after bullying due to the child not participating in the course. The lawsuit argued that the Bible course violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment because it infringed on the personal consciences of nonreligious and non-Christian parents and students by involving public schools in religious affairs. The parties defending the Bible class argued that the class did not promote religious beliefs but instead only explored the Bible’s history and literature. Additionally, the class was an elective and not mandatory.

The Argument Presented by Opposing Counsel

The First Liberty Institute, which offered legal counsel on behalf of the school board, argued that the federal court properly rejected the concept that a Bible class in public schools is always unconstitutional in nature.

Applicable Law on Teaching Religion in the Classroom

An increasing number of public schools are beginning to teach religion in the classroom. To remain constitutional, teachers must teach about religion rather than any type of indoctrination. Schools that want to teach religion in a constitutional manner must obey the following guidelines:

  • The school’s approach should be academic rather than devotional in nature.
  • Schools should aim for student awareness rather than religious acceptance.
  • Schools offer a variety of religious perspectives rather than one particular view.
  • Schools should seek to educate students about religion without conformity.

The Future of the Case

This lawsuit has received significant media focus because it has potential consequences for all public schools that offer a Bible class. The case also has significant local repercussions because the Bible course was funded by parents and community organizations that raised $500,000 each year to pay for the class. This case represents just one of the many debates that have occurred recently about the role that religion has in public schools. Each month, the Universal Life Church’s blog is focused on explaining the ongoing legal debate about the relationship between church and state. By reading our blog each month, readers can remain up to date on the most important developments in this field of the law.

(image courtesy of Rod Long)

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