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'Secular Humanism' Lawsuit May Be Finished

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A Mobile County, Ala., citizens' group that charges that the county schools' textbooks unconstitutionally espouse "secular humanism" apparently missed its deadline for filing an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, a development that could end its lawsuit.

Lawyers for the 624 parents, students, and teachers who brought the suit declined to comment on the status of the case last week. But James Ippolito Jr., a lawyer for the Alabama Board of Education, which is the primary defendant in the case, said the plaintiffs' lawyers had told him that they allowed the Nov. 24 deadline for filing the appeal with the High Court to pass without taking action.

As of Nov. 25, the plaintiffs had not filed either a motion for a petition for certiorari with the High Court, or a request for an extension to file the motion, according to the office of the clerk of the Supreme Court.

Last week's developments apparently left intact a federal appeals court's ruling last August that the 44 challenged textbooks do not promote the belief system of secular humanism in violation of the First Amendment.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned U.S. District Judge W. Brevard's Hand's landmark ruling last March that humanism is a religion for First Amendment purposes, and that the challenged books advanced its precepts.

Judge Hand dismissed the suit, Smith v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, on Nov. 17 in compliance with the 11th Circuit Court's order in August. The Supreme Court, however, could have revived the case at the request of the plaintiffs.

"I hope this case is now over," Mr. Ippolito said.

Alan Harkey, administrator of the National Legal Foundation, which provided legal assistance to the plaintiffs, did not return several telephone calls last week.

Barber Sherling, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in Mobile, said he had no comment last week, but added that he would release a statement early this week.

Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Thomas F. Parker 4th, referred all calls to the nlf--kg

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