Lawsuit Challenges Bible-History Curriculum

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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.

Resurrection Included

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.

How should schools approach the issue of teaching about the importance Bible in Western Society? Share your views in our on-line Town Meeting.

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.

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Web Resources
  • People for the American Way in September released "A Right Wing and a Prayer," a Sept. 4, 1997, report which it claims documents the efforts of the religious right to influence public school curriculums.
  • "A Parent's Guide to Religion in the Public Schools." This Dec. 7, 1995, report from the First Amendment Center and the National PTA provides parents with an outline of religious liberty rights in public schools.
  • Read an ACLU legal bulletin on the issue of the establishment clause and public schools. The ACLU fictional "Sybil Rights" answers common questions from students about school prayer and other issues related to religion and public schools.
  • Read "Teaching the Bible in Public Schools?" a 1996 report by Dr. Robert L. Simonds from the Institute for Creation Research.
  • Letter to Superintendents. This Aug. 10, 1995, statement of principles from U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley to school districts around the nation addresses the extent to which religious expression and activity are permitted in public schools.
  • "The Supreme Court, Religion, and Public Education." This 1996 essay from the First Amendment Center explains aspects of the Supreme Court's role in providing an interpretation of the First Amendment's Religious Liberty clauses.
  • "Making Public Schools Safe for Religion," July/August 1996. This article by Joe Loconte for Policy Review: The Journal of American Citizenship highlights one view on the condition of church state relations with regard to education. It is published on the Heritage Foundation's Web page.
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