Depiction of Adam and Eve with a dinosaur that was used in the curriculum
FFRF filed a civil rights lawsuit against Mercer County Schools on January 18, 2017, over the school system's egregiously unconstitutional "Bible in the Schools" classes for elementary school students. Joining FFRF as primary plaintiffs in the case are Jane Doe, an atheist and member of FFRF, and her child, Jamie Doe. Elizabeth Deal and her daughter, Jessica Roe, joined the case on March 28, 2017.
The bible instruction, taught by itinerant teachers who possess "a degree in Bible," began in first grade. Classes were held in 15 elementary schools, one intermediate school and three middle schools. The classes met weekly and lasted 30 minutes in elementary schools and 45 minutes in middle schools. The curriculum was equivalent to Sunday school instruction.
Due to the lawsuit, the school system suspended the Bible in the Schools classes for the 2017-18 school year.
On Nov. 14, 2017, Judge David Faber dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, finding that one family did not have standing and that the case was not yet “ripe” for review. Elizabeth Deal and Jessica Roe filed an appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (Case No. 17-2429). Following the appeals decision, the school board voted to permanently end the Bible in the Schools program.
On Dec. 17, 2018, the Fourth Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of Elizabeth Deal and her daughter, reversing the district court. The court held that the plaintiffs could pursue an injunction against the bible classes and remanded the case for further proceedings.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Mercer County's petition to hear the case on Oct. 7, 2019, which finalized the Fourth Circuit’s decision. The case was then before Judge Faber in the Southern District of West Virginia.
In October 2021, Mercer County and FFRF settled all issues through a joint mediation. Pursuant to this settlement, U.S. District Judge David Faber dismissed the lawsuit on Monday, May 16, 2022. The Mercer County Board of Education, through its insurance coverage, agreed to pay $225,000 to cover the costs and attorneys fees of the plaintiffs. Those payments will reimburse two private law firms and FFRF for hundreds of hours of time spent by attorneys litigating the case.
FFRF won a court victory before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ending similar bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton), Tenn., schools in 2004.
Marc Schneider served as litigating attorney with Kristina Whiteaker and FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott and Staff Attorney Christopher Line as co-counsel.
- Exhibit 1
- Brief in Support of Pseudonyms
- Press Release
- Amended Complaint
- Mercer County Motion to Dismiss
- FFRF Response to Motion to Dismiss
- Mercer County Reply Brief
- FFRF Reply Brief
- Mercer County Brief on Ripeness
- FFRF Brief on Justiciability
- Memorandum Opinion and Order
- Notice of Appeal
- Opening Appellate Brief
- Mercer County Appellate Brief
- Reply Brief
- Appeal Decision
- Mercer County Supreme Court Petition
- FFRF Supreme Court Opposition
District Court Remand
- Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss
- FFRF’s Opposition to Motion to Dismiss
- Defendant’s Reply Brief
- FFRF Surreply
- Judge’s Orders on Motion to Dismiss
- FFRF Supplemental Brief
- Order on Nominal Damages
- Order on Dismissal
- Press Release on Settlement