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Court Orders Hearing in Oregon Textbook Suit

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that a suit challenging a sentence in the statutes outlining standards for statewide textbook selection in Oregon should be heard in federal district court.

The sentence states that "no textbook shall be used in the schools which speaks slightingly of the founders of the republic or of those who preserved the union or which belittles or undervalues their work."

The suit, called Johnson v. Stuart, was originally brought by a group of students, parents, and teachers, and was dismissed by the federal district court for the district of Oregon in 1978.

The wording infringes on the students' right to free access to information under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to David H. Wilson Jr., volunteer counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu) of Oregon.

The object of the suit is to delete the specific wording, said an aclu spokesman, not to challenge the textbook-selection process itself.

The district court originally ruled that none of the plaintiffs had standing to raise these issues, because neither the students nor the teachers had "been injured in a way the law recognizes," Mr. Wilson said.

The district court also said that the suit lacked merit because textbooks were tested against numerous criteria in addition to the one stated in the code, and textbooks may have been excluded for other reasons besides the code itself, said James E. Mountain Jr, Oregon's deputy solicitor general.

The three-member circuit-court panel in San Francisco said, however, that the students (but not the teachers--who have been removed from the suit) have standing to sue because they have "shown an injury which has a causal connection with the application of this statute," Mr. Wilson said.

The case will be sent back to district court for trial.

The suit was filed against the Oregon State Board of Education, the state's textbook commission, Portland school district number 1J, and the Gresham grade-school district number 4.

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