Lawsuit Challenges Bible-History Curriculum
Barring court intervention, the Lee County, Fla., school district is scheduled to begin its much-debated Bible-history curriculum when classes resume Jan. 21.
The curriculum has been challenged in a lawsuit filed with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way. The groups argue that the district's presentation of the Bible as historical fact endorses Christianity and thus violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion.
The organizations have asked a federal judge in Fort Myers, Fla., to issue an injunction barring the 51,000-student district from offering its Bible History 1 and Bible History 2 courses beginning this semester. The request was pending late last week.
Lee County citizens have been debating the Bible curriculum for almost two years. ("Proposed Bible-Studies Class Stirs Debate in Fla.," June 18, 1997.)
A majority of the five-member school board rejected suggestions from district lawyers last year to amend the curriculum by removing such subjects as the story of Adam and Eve and the resurrection of Jesus.
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In October, the board voted 3-2 to adopt controversial materials from the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools as the base curriculum for the New Testament portion of its Bible course.
"This course would be perfectly appropriate for Sunday school, but not for public school," Lisa Versaci, the Florida director of People for the American Way, said last month after the lawsuit was filed.
The school board's curriculum is now being defended free of charge by the American Center for Law and Justice, a Virginia Beach, Va.-based legal organization founded by the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.
"The concerns by the opposition are premature," said Gene Kapp, a center spokesman. "We think the curriculum is constitutional."
The school board and its lawyers argue in court papers that the Bible courses should not be barred before they begin and that they will meet constitutional guidelines.