Appeals Court Stays Ala. Textbook Ban
By Kirsten Goldberg
Forty-four textbooks that were removed from the Alabama public schools after a judge ruled they promoted a religion of secular humanism are being returned to the classroom in the wake of a federal appeals-court order.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit late last month temporarily suspended U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand's order removing the books from the state's schools.
In ordering the stay, the appellate court granted a request by the Alabama Board of Education and a dozen parents to block Judge Hand's March 4 order until an appeal can be heard. The court also agreed to expedite the appeals process.
Judge Hand banned the textbooks in response to a claim by 624 parents, some of them fundamentalist Christians, that the books espoused an anti-Christian philosophy and omitted references to the role of traditional Judeo-Christian religions in American society. (See Education Week, March 11, 1987.)
After the appeals court's March 27 ruling, the state board directed officials to return the books to students.
Wayne Teague, the state superintendent of education, said in a statement that Judge Hand's ruling had "[left] us in a quandary because we received no guidelines on what books could be used.''
"Now, at least until the appeals court rules,'' he said, "that issue is answered, and instruction can move ahead.''
Charles S. Coody, a lawyer for the state board, said the appeals court's decision to stay the order was a sign that the court may overturn Judge Hand's ruling in the suit, Smith v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County.
"It makes us feel good about the prospects of an appeal,'' Mr. Coody said.
The appellate court's three-sentence order did not render an opinion on the merits of Judge Hand's ruling. And lawyers for the plaintiffs said the stay should not be viewed as an indication of the court's opinion in the case.
Many administrators and teachers in Alabama have said they support the appeal and have described Judge Hand's order as disruptive.
In Mobile County, where the suit originated, the disputed books, which were taken from the students after Judge Hand's order, were returned last week.
Other school districts also had begun removing the books after Mr. Teague advised school principals to obey Judge Hand's order. "We will always abide by court decisions,'' Mr. Teague said. "However, when we feel these actions are not justified, we will use every legal means at our disposal to seek redress.''
John Buchanan, chairman of People for the American Way, a civil-liberties group that helped arrange legal representation for the state board, praised the appeals court "for returning sanity to the schools and the textbooks to the children of Alabama.''
A court clerk could not estimate how quickly the court would hear the appeal, but said it would be handled faster than the typical case, which can take about eight months.