I am really going to enjoy following this story from the county where I grew up.FFRF, parent sue to end 75 years of Bible classes in Mercer County, W.Va.
The bible instruction, taught by itinerant teachers who possess "a degree in Bible," begins in first grade. Classes are held in 15 elementary schools, one intermediate school and three middle schools. The classes meet weekly and last 30 minutes in elementary schools and 45 minutes in middle schools.
Bible indoctrination classes have been taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years. Between 1939 and 1985, the bible classes were designed, financed, administered and staffed by a small group of Mercer County citizens. Following complaints by parents of eight students in 1985, the Mercer County schools took over the instruction in 1986, claiming to follow nine guidelines from the Office of the Attorney General.
Bible in the Schools (BITS) is the organization that teaches the classes. They never showed up at my school. Apparently, they go where they're invited (like vampires), and perhaps the parents in my college town were not interested in the program.
The story in the local newspaper, and my own Facebook post, have garnered predictable and mortifying comments from Good Christians who are outraged at this persecution. (Comments on the paper based in the state capital are more moderate.)
Honestly, I'm a little surprised a lawsuit hasn't happened already—it seems like it's clearly unconstitutional—but maybe it took this long for somebody to get the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Jane Doe is a brave woman, and I don't blame her for being anonymous. Her kid will almost certainly, as the suit alleges, be ostracized or bullied as one of few children who don't participate if the suit fails. The potential post-lawsuit backlash, if it's successful, will be considerable as well.
SO ANYWAY, first have a look at Bible in the Schools'
Is this a church-operated program?
No. The program is operated by the Mercer County Public Schools.
That's enough for me, right there. As well as the fact that the classes are taught in school buildings, during the instructional day.
Is this in any way violating separation of Church and State?
No. The Bible is not taught as religion but as history and literature according to the guidelines set by the Supreme Court.
The guidelines referenced are from the 1963 Abington v. Schempp decision,
which ruled 8-1 "school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States to be unconstitutional." However, BITS seized upon this section of the decision, which they quote on their web site, insisting that they are not teaching religion or doctrine or biblical interpretation, but history and literature.
It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. (Abington v. Schempp, 374 US 203)
FFRF has obtained, through a FOIA request, some of the BITS curriculum and guidelines. You can read the whole filing
listing some stuff that really made my eyebrows meet my hairline.
49. Lesson 1 instructs students to listen to the directions and warnings that are given in the bible and to follow them in their own lives.
50. Lesson 1 says, “This year is so great. We will be studying about the life of Jesus, which is so exciting, and we will see the signs and warnings He gave to help the people.”
52. Lesson 2 advocates for creationism and a belief that animals were created as stated in the bible rather than by natural processes. Lesson 2 states, “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.”
53. Creationism instruction in Lesson 2 includes having students imagine that human beings and dinosaurs existed at the same time. Lesson 2 says, “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!”
History and literature, my sweet round ass.
40. Participation in the bible classes is said to be “voluntary” by Mercer County Schools. The overwhelming majority of students participate in bible classes.
41. District policy requires reasonable alternatives for students who opt out of the bible classes.
42. Upon information and belief, students at many schools have not been receiving alternative instruction.
Some commenters have noted that because it's "optional," the kid can sit out and there will be no problem. Given the vitriol they're spewing ("If you don't like our religion, you can leave"), I find this a bit rich.
Read, enjoy, comment, join me on this ride.