‘Bibles in School’ lawsuit brings media attention

FFRF has been the focus of a lot of media coverage over its Jan. 18 lawsuit to end “Bibles in the School” classes in a West Virginia district. Most of the coverage has been based on the terms of the suit itself, although it’s evident partisan and/or religious sites have pushed their agendas on the topic.

The federal lawsuit challenges bible indoctrination classes that have been taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years. The bible instruction begins in first grade and classes are held in 15 elementary schools, one intermediate school and three middle schools. The classes meet weekly and last 30 minutes in elementary schools and 45 minutes in middle schools. Lessons have included images of Jesus being tortured, nailed to the cross and ascending into heaven.

FFRF’s lawsuit has received major news coverage, including from the Associated Press, which appeared on ABC, NBC and CBS news sites and the Washington Post, among many others. National Public’ Radio’s “Here and Now” show featured FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on Jan. 26. CBS Today also did a segment on the case.

An article by Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, known for its support of state/church separation, was on point. “Education about religion as part of history or literature classes, or as a comparative religions course, can be an appropriate curricular offering in public schools, provided they are careful not to promote religion. Religious instruction in a public school, however — particularly for young children — runs the risk of jeopardizing the religious liberty of students and parents alike.”

The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va., interviewed Rev. Garry Moore, pastor of Scott Street Baptist Church in Bluefield, W.Va., who lamely attempted to justify the “Bibles in the School” program by saying they should be used for literature and history purposes, not religious motives.

“Just to even have it as literature, we’ve got to have something (in schools),” Moore told the newspaper. “But it should be kept in a literature-based vernacular rather than taught (as it would be in church). . . . It’s such a complex book. It has a wide variety of authors. Students are not going to get religion, just the facts about the bible. It’s a history book.”

Comments from the discussion board on the Bluefield Daily Telegraph article included those who used the lack of bibles in the classroom as a reason for what they see as the moral decay of society.

“We took God out of the school, that’s when the bullying began! If God and the bible where allowed, perhaps there would not be such foolishness as bullies, killings, back talk, disrespect and dishonor.”

But others were there to call them on it.

“Not even close. The bible provides plenty of verses demanding intolerance! Have you not read it?”

On the bright side, the comment board also had voices of reason, such as: “If public schools offered ‘comparative religions’ classes, no one would have a problem with that. The problem here is that public schools in Mercer County are giving the bible and Christianity preferential treatment, despite the fact that student bodies are comprised of students of all faiths (or lack thereof).”

And this: “Unfortunately no one heretofore had the courage to take a stand against this for many, many years. In a place like Mercer County, to do so would be dangerous. As a student of Bluefield High School from 1974 to 1977, I know of what I speak.”

And finally: “If you are a Christian parent, is it not enough to be able to indoctrinate your kids at home and at church? Do you really need the assistance of public schools?”
Joining FFRF as primary plaintiffs in the federal case filed in the Southern District of West Virginia are Jane Doe, an atheist and member of FFRF, and her child, Jamie Doe. The defendants are Mercer County Board of Education, Mercer County Schools, and Superintendent Deborah S. Akers.

Freedom From Religion Foundation