Lawsuit Proves Sunday School Illegally Taught in Dayton Public Schools (December 2001)

Christian Sunday school curriculum is being openly taught in public schools in Rhea County, Tenn., the Freedom From Religion Foundation has learned through the discovery process in its federal lawsuit.

The Foundation sued the Rhea County Schools on April 26 challenging bible instruction, Gideon bible distribution, and other religious activities in the county’s K-12 classrooms.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the School Board has insisted that the bible classes are part of the state’s Character Education program, presenting the bible in a purely secular, historical manner.

Yet students in Bryan College’s Bible Education Ministry have been invited into Rhea Country public schools for more than 50 years to teach the bible during school hours to children as young as kindergarteners. Evangelical Bryan College, named for William Jennings Bryan, is in Dayton, home of the famous Scopes Trial and the county seat.

Detailed records and lesson plans from Bryan College obtained by the Foundation reveal that pure “Sunday school” is being conducted at the public schools during school hours.

These forms include printed queries, such as “How I Plan To Help Students See the Truth.” At the bottom of each page is this admonition to the teachers:

“Did you remember to pray for your pupils by name? Pray for yourself and for the lesson you will be teaching. Enlist someone to pray for you during the time you will be teaching. After the lesson read your Scripture passage for next week. Read it every morning before you go to class. You will be amazed at what God will teach you during the week.”

Many student bible teachers candidly revealed their religious intentions in a section they filled out, titled “What do you want your pupils to know, do, and/or feel as a result of this lesson?” A sampling of student objectives follows:

“We want the kids to know how much God loves them and that children are very special to Jesus.”

“That the Bible is true and it is the instrument that can give guidance and direction in your life.”

“We want the kids to know that they are so important to Jesus and that he loves them so much! We will have them decorate hearts and put their names on them . . . we will have them glue their hearts onto a poster that says ‘Jesus Loves Us All!’ If time permits we will sing ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children.’ “

“We are going to sing ‘I’m in the Lord’s Army’ and ‘Rejoice in the Lord Always.’ “

“God sent his Son down to earth to save us from our sins because he loves us so much.”

“I want the kids to understand what it means to submit, and to learn to submit first of all to God, and also to those in authority.”

“We are just going to read some Christmas stories & sing Christmas carols,” one student teacher recorded in a submitted lesson plan. “I want to tell the kids the true meaning of the season about the birth of Jesus & the wisemen. . . . we may make some Christmas cards depending on time for their parents.”

The instructor wrote a revealing caveat on this lesson plan: “Good idea, but remember the kids can’t take anything home,” showing that the bible college was actively hiding the contents of the bible instruction from parents. (See sidebar below for more student comments.)

The program uses a curriculum called “Bible-In-Light,” published by David C. Cook, which is “an unapologetic Sunday School lesson of the tackiest kind,” according to Dan Barker, a former minister who is now a Foundation spokesperson.

David C. Cook is described as the “Pioneer of the Sunday school.” Its promotional material says: “With David C. Cook Bible-in-Life Sunday school curriculum, we’re making sure that every student, at every level, feels the goodness and joy of knowing God’s Word. . . . And because you want to be able to say: ‘I go to a Sunday school where the biblical values I cherish continue to shape the future.'”

“The Rhea County public schoolchildren essentially are being used as guinea pigs for future Sunday School teachers to practice on!” said Barker.

Although Supt. Sue Porter has claimed that she does not know what is going on in those classrooms, evidence shows that she has been repeatedly warned that the bible classes are illegal.

In October, the school’s insurance company informed the school system that it will not cover their legal costs in this case because the classes are so clearly unconstitutional.

Perhaps sensing they are losing the case, some reckless parties in Rhea County have threatened to publicly reveal the identity of one of the persons they think is the “John Doe” or “Mary Roe” plaintiff. The plaintiffs’ names are being kept secret by a federal Protective Order due to Rhea County’s reputation as one of the most bible-thumping communities in the country. County Executive Jimmy Wilkey, who had originally been a defendant since the County voted unanimously to uphold the Bible classes, claimed to media in October that he is free to reveal identities because the County has been removed as a party. The editor of the Dayton Herald, a graduate of Bryan College, has likewise been trying to learn the plaintiffs’ identities, presumably in order to publish the names. The judge ordered Wilkey to keep his mouth shut, reminding him that the protective order applies to all parties, past and present.

The October trial date was postponed to February 19 in Chattanooga federal court. The Foundation has requested summary judgment (no trial), since there are no disputed facts.

“The Rhea County Schools are openly teaching the bible, and they are publicly proud to be doing so,” Barker noted.

Bible Lesson Plans for Public Schools

A few comments from the thousands of Lesson Plans by student bible teachers in Rhea County schools. What immediately follows was for kindergarten:

“Jesus knows everything and is powerful. We should trust & obey him when he tells us what to do.”
“We want our students to understand the power and love (compassion) of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“We want the students to realize how much power Christ had–so much that he could raise the dead.”
“Children will learn that God made a dead man live & that he can do many things in our life.”
“We will teach our kids God always answers our prayers.”
“Adam & Eve disobeyed God & had to leave their beautiful garden. We will stress obedience toward God, not disobedience.”
“We are God’s children & God loves us like we love our pets.”
Comments for other grades:
“We want the children to learn . . . how to be cleansed from sin.”
“They can have a personal relationship w/ God.”
“It is important that we always obey God & be faithful to Him . . . if you obey, there will be no punishment.”
“To understand that the Bible is a light in your life. . . . God’s word is the truth and we must obey.”
“The students should be able to understand that Jesus could heal people and forgive sins.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation