Freethought Today · December 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Judge dismisses suit after FFRF forces suspension of bible class

In a legal twist, FFRF's success in getting a West Virginia school to stop its "Bible in the Schools" program was the reason a judge dismissed its lawsuit to permanently ban the practice.

In May, the Mercer County School District voted to suspend its "Bible in the Schools" classes for the following school year after FFRF sued in January over the unconstitutional program. Because the school was no longer teaching those classes (due to the board's action in response to FFRF's lawsuit), the court said the case was not "ripe" and declared the case moot.

FFRF filed a suit on behalf of four plaintiffs against Mercer County Schools, the Board of Education, the superintendent and a school principal. Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Faber's dismissal on jurisdictional grounds was without prejudice, meaning that the case can be refiled if the school system resumes any bible classes.

The lawsuit has received national attention, including a segment on "CBS This Morning" and coverage in the Washington Post. The "Bible in the Schools" program, which was offered in 15 elementary schools and three middle schools, is financed by donations, but administered by the school system.

FFRF and its plaintiffs are considering an appeal of 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.

The case has solid legal grounds.

Two of the plaintiffs, Elizabeth Deal and her anonymous child, "Jessica Roe," suffered harm due to the bible classes. Deal had to move Jessica out of the school system to end harassment at the hands of her classmates. Deal discussed her daughter's mistreatment on the "CBS This Morning" news segment.

"They taunted her about it," she told CBS on Feb. 8. "They told her that she was going to hell, that I was going to hell, that her father was going to hell."

Deal removed Jessica from Mercer County Schools to avoid the divisiveness, sending Jessica to a neighboring school district. The "Bible in the Schools" program and the treatment Jessica received as a result of not participating in the classes were a major reason for her transfer to a new school, according to FFRF's amended complaint.

"FFRF is fighting on behalf both of the Constitution and real-life human beings, including the youngest and most vulnerable students," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes.

Bible indoctrination classes were taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years until the FFRF lawsuit. The curriculum is the equivalent of Sunday school instruction.

FFRF's legal complaint lists examples of the proselytizing curriculum. Lesson 2 promotes creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such instruction unconstitutional in the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education case in 1948. FFRF won a court victory before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ending similar bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton), Tenn., schools in 2004.

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