FFRF appeals unjust plaintiff exclusion in W.Va. bible case

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A parent and child are appealing a ruling last month in the Freedom From Religion Foundation's case that seeks to put a full stop to blatantly unconstitutional "Bible in the Schools" classes in a West Virginia county. 

Plaintiffs Elizabeth Deal and her child, Jessica Roe, are appealing to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a district court's unjust ruling that they did not have standing to sue the school system. Jessica attended schools within Mercer County, but was moved out of the district last year to avoid the illegal classes, which FFRF's lawsuit stopped for this year. 

Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Faber in November dismissed a high-profile lawsuit filed by FFRF on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing or brought claims that were not yet ripe. FFRF had 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. Farber'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 did rule that "Jane Doe" (another parent of a current elementary student) and FFRF have standing, but that the case was no longer "ripe," since the classes were suspended.

Plaintiffs FFRF and Jane Doe have not appealed the decision as it pertains to "ripeness." FFRF could bring suit against the school system if the bible classes return to elementary and middle schools. FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, serving as co-counsel, notes FFRF has accomplished a great victory in halting the classes, but remains concerned that the school district may try to resume the inappropriate indoctrination.

Deal discussed her daughter's mistreatment on a "CBS This Morning" news segment highlighting 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." 

Bible indoctrination classes were taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years until the FFRF lawsuit. 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.

Elizabeth Deal and her daughter are asking to have their injury recognized, nominal damages and assurances the classes will not resume.

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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