FFRF lawsuit forces suspension of W. Va. bible classes, Judge dismisses suit

1Mercer

This visual aid is used to help teach "Bible in the Schools" in classes in Mercer County schools.

A federal judge has unfairly dismissed a high-profile lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to end blatantly unconstitutional “Bible in the Schools” classes in a West Virginia county. 

FFRF filed the suit on the behalf of four plaintiffs earlier this year against Mercer County Schools, the board of education, the superintendent and a school principal. Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Faber’s dismissal on jurisdictional grounds was without prejudice, meaning that the case can be refiled if the school system resumes any bible classes. The court ruled that “Jane Doe” (the parent of a current elementary school student) and FFRF have standing. However, the court said the case was not “ripe,” since the classes are not currently ongoing. 

FFRF and its plaintiffs are likely to appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, serving as co-counsel, noted that the school district has given no assurances it will not resume the inappropriate indoctrination.

The case has solid legal grounds.

Two of the plaintiffs, Elizabeth Deal and her anonymous child, “Jessica Roe,” suffered harm due to the bible classes. Deal had to move Jessica out of the school system to end harassment at the hands of her classmates. Deal discussed her daughter’s mistreatment on a “CBS This Morning” news segment spotlighting FFRF’s case.

“They taunted her about it,” she told CBS. “They told her that she was going to hell, that I was going to hell, that her father was going to hell.” 

Deal removed Jessica from Mercer County Schools to avoid the divisiveness, sending Jessica to a neighboring school district. The “Bible in the Schools” program and the treatment Jessica received as a result of not participating in the classes were a major reason for her transfer to a new school, according to FFRF’s amended complaint. 

“FFRF is fighting on behalf both of the Constitution and real-life human beings, including the youngest and the most vulnerable students,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes. “We will continue that battle without hesitation.”

Bible indoctrination classes were taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years until the FFRF lawsuit. The curriculum is the equivalent of Sunday school instruction.

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!”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such instruction unconstitutional in the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education case in 1948. 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.

Mercer County, whose county seat is Princeton, has a population of about 63,000.

FFRF v. Mercer County Board of Education (Case# 1:17-cv-00642) was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia before Judge David A. Faber, with Marc Schneider serving as primary litigating attorney.

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.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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