Most students in the school district in Mercer County, West Virginia choose to attend voluntary Bible courses offered in their public schools. The classes, paid for by parents and community members, teach Bible stories to students in elementary and middle schools. However, if two plaintiffs and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have their way, the classes will come to an end.
One of the plaintiffs, Elizabeth Deal, alleges that the classes may be voluntary, but no alternative lessons or classes are offered for those who do not participate. Deal, who describes herself as an agnostic, said that her daughter is sent to the computer lab to read a book. She says that her daughter's lack of participation has exposed her to bullying. "They taunted her about it. They told her that she was going to hell, that I was going to hell, that her father was going to hell."
School officials claim that the classes are not sectarian and are not meant to try to convert children to the Christian faith. Courtney Tolliver, a teacher in the District, said: "It's not teaching religion, but it teaches character and respect and how important it is to tell the truth." The Mercer County School District issued a statement saying they teach the Bible to children for its "literary and historical qualities."
The plaintiffs and the Freedom from Religion Foundation disagree and quote from a lesson to illustrate their point. "If all of the Israelites had chosen to follow the Ten Commandments, think of how safe and happy they would have been." The Freedom from Religion Foundation's press release about the case also says that "Lesson 25 indoctrinates young students in the core narrative of Christianity — the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus."
Parents and some of the 63,000 residents of Mercer County raise $500,000 to pay those who teach the classes to the district's 4,000 students. In spite of the private funding and claims of non-sectarianism, the Freedom from Religion Foundation wants the courts to rule that the classes are unconstitutional and end them. In a press release, they indicated that they are confident the courts will side with them, as they did in Rhea County, Tennessee in 2004.
However, while Tennessee public schools no longer offer the Bible classes and West Virginia public schools may face the same fate, Kentucky's conservative governor Matt Bevin has just signed a bill into law authorizing public schools to offer elective Bible literacy classes.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: April 24, 2017