FFRF calls for bible-class moratorium in Rowan-Salisbury, N.C. schools

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has told the Rowan-Salisbury (N.C.) School System it must immediately drop unconstitutional elementary school-level bible classes. The national state/church watchdog, with more than 21,000 members, including about 550 North Carolina members and a chapter, the Triangle Freethought Society, is awaiting response to an open records request to determine the extent of the violation

In addition to weekly sessions of physical education and art classes, the school district’s youngest students attend a bible class. FFRF received a report about one such session in which the teacher presented the bible as literal fact, including teaching a 7-day creation, giving students examples of “God’s plan” that “clearly” showed the universe was created with a purpose, and supposed examples of the bible predicting scientific discoveries, among other inappropriate teachings inculcating biblical beliefs. 

Local churches fund the bible teachers through nonprofit groups set up specifically to promote bible classes. Under firm Supreme Court precedent, such outside funding does not relieve the school of its obligation to ensure secular education, FFRF noted. 

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the district on Sept. 24 calling the classes “flagrantly unconstitutional,” pointing out that the Supreme Court had struck down similar classes in 1948 in a landmark case in which the facts “could hardly be more similar.” 

“It is appalling that the District would take away from instructional time to indoctrinate children in Christian dogma,” Elliott said, calling on Rowan-Salisbury School System to put an immediate moratorium on the elementary school bible classes involving “young, impressionable elementary school students.” 

Elliott wrote that the district’s ill-advised decision to offer elementary bible classes calls into question the legitimacy of the bible classes also being taught in the middle schools and high school. FFRF is asking the district to thoroughly investigate all such classes. 

Elliot headed off any justification that students can apparently be excused from the bible classes, writing that “suggesting that children who do not wish to be subjected to religious activity at their school should be segregated from their classmates is reprehensible.” 

“Parents should not be required to excuse students from constitutional violations, and segregating students based on religious beliefs, or lack thereof, is not a way to get around prohibitions on religious activity in public schools,” he continued. 

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker noted that FFRF resoundingly won a federal court case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004, challenging similar weekly bible classes in Rhea County (Dayton), Tenn. “It’s absolutely shocking,” Barker said, “that 66 years after the Supreme Court’s McCollum ruling, we would still see such a flagrant violation imposed on such a young captive audience.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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