Appeal filed in West Virginia bible-teaching case

After FFRF’s lawsuit caused a West Virginia school district to suspend its bible classes, a parent plaintiff has filed an appeal to make the change permanent.

The appeal, dated March 5, argues that the suspension of the bible classes this school year by Mercer County, W.Va., does not prevent the court from ruling on the case. The brief states, “Because the evidence fails to clearly show BITS [Bible in the Schools] is gone for good, the case is not moot, and it should be remanded to the district court where it can proceed.”

Elizabeth Deal, a parent of a former Mercer County student, is part of the appeal before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate brief, filed by Attorney Marc Schneider and FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, argues that Deal and her daughter may continue to pursue claims against the school district even though her daughter is now attending a neighboring school system.

In November, Senior U.S. District Judge David Faber dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, finding that Deal did not have standing. The appeal demonstrates that persons who are directly affected by the bible classes may challenge them in court. “Deal has standing under the Establishment Clause whether she endures a challenged practice or acts to avoid it,” the brief asserts.

Bible indoctrination classes were taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years until the FFRF lawsuit. FFRF’s legal complaint lists examples of the proselytizing curriculum. Lesson 2 promotes creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Students are asked to “picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”

Also in West Virginia, FFRF was involved in helping stop a bill requiring state schools to teach bible classes.

The West Virginia Senate did not even give a vote to SB 252, a bill that would have required all schools in the state, including elementary schools, to teach bible courses. FFRF released an informational video condemning the bill in early February.

The bill sought to frustrate West Virginia teachers, who recently gained national media attention by demanding that the state Legislature take action to remedy West Virginia teachers’ uncompetitive wages. The bill’s sponsors shamefully sought to impose additional requirements on public schools, while pushing them into inevitable lawsuits, rather than giving teachers much-needed relief.

Political maneuvering aside, this proposed law was fundamentally misguided. Government employees should not impart religious beliefs to children. Elementary school students are particularly young and impressionable and a public elementary school education should not include religious instruction of any sort.