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Alabama Group Closes Its 'Secular Humanism' Suit

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The Mobile County, Ala., citizens' group that charged that textbooks used by local schools unconstitutionally promoted "secular humanism" will not appeal its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokesman for the group confirmed last week.

The decision effectively ends a two-year-old lawsuit, initiated by 624 parents, students, and teachers, that attracted national attention to issues involving the content of major textbook series.

The federal district judge hearing the case banned 44 textbooks on the novel legal grounds that they promoted the "religion" of secular humanism. That ruling was later reversed.

Explaining last week why her group believes an appeal to the Supreme Court is not necessary, Judith C. Whorton, a parent and spokesman, said, "We have brought to the public's attention the issue of humanism and lack of religion in the schools."

Ms. Whorton also argued that her group had achieved its objective of convincing the federal appeals court that heard the case "that secular humanism is a religion," a contention with which lawyers for the defense disagreed.

The vacancy on the High Court left by Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.'s retirement also was a factor in the decision, Ms. Whorton said, noting that "we did not know when our case would be heard, or by whom."

Lawyers for both sides also said it was unlikely that the Court would have accepted the case for review.

In a written statement, Barber Sherling, a Mobile lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said the federal appellate court's decision not to consider evidence and testimony presented during the district-court trial would have required the High Court to make a lengthy review of the case.

Typically, the Court declines to hear cases that involve factual disputes, and instead limits its jurisdiction to disputes over the meaning of laws or constitutional provisions.

James R. Ippolito Jr., a lawyer for the Alabama Board of Education, which was the primary defendant in the case, said there were "no signifiel10lcant legal issues" raised by the case that would have warranted the Court's review.

The plaintiffs' decision not to pursue the case left intact a federal appeals court's ruling last August that the 44 challenged textbooks do not promote 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 Hand's ruling last March that humanism is a religion, and that the books advanced its precepts.

The appeals court held that the plaintiffs had not shown that the schools were promoting a religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution, and said it was not necessary to rule on the question of whether humanism is a religion.

Arthur J. Kropp, president of People for the American Way, the Washington-based civil-liberties group that financed the defense of the textbooks, said the case "was unique and eccentric from the beginning" and was not likely to have succeeded in the High Court.

He said lawyers for his organization would ask the district court "in the next few weeks" to order the plaintiffs to compensate the defendants for their legal fees. He would not reveal an amount.

Ms. Whorton, whose two high-school-age sons left the Mobile schools to attend private schools while the suit was pending, said the plaintiffs planned to "stay involved in the issue" of textbook content.

She said the citizens' group has made a 38-minute videocassette tape that it is selling to help pay its legal fees. Titled "Humanism: An Explanation," the videotape of a panel discussion "tells in a nutshell what the case is about and what parents can do to be involved," Ms. Whorton said.

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