A federal judge has dismissed the claims of a mother who, with the support of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has been challenging religious indoctrination in a West Virginia school system. Because those classes were suspended as a result of FFRF’s litigation, the court ruled the lawsuit is moot.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge David Faber ruled on Tuesday, March 31, that Elizabeth Deal could not pursue an injunction against bible classes. The judge requested additional briefing on Deal’s claim for nominal damages.
Deal and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit in 2017 over Bible in the Schools (“BITS”) classes taught for nearly 80 years in Mercer County. That school district suspended the classes, but did not provide formal assurances that classes would not resume. Deal, who had to remove her third-grader from the school in order to avoid the bible classes, won an earlier appeal before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that she had standing to challenge the classes. Shortly after that decision, the Mercer County Board of Education adopted a resolution saying that the classes would not return to elementary schools. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the school district last October.
With the case returning to the district court, Faber has now ruled that claims for an injunction are moot because “defendants have met their burden to show that the classes could not return.”
In the brief filed with the district court, FFRF and Deal had argued that the school board’s actions were merely an “attempt to thwart judicial review of its constitutionality.” The board’s resolution was adopted just two weeks after it lost on appeal. The plaintiffs’ brief pointed out that there is no meaningful bar to the classes resuming and that the school superintendent has in fact expressed a desire to do so.
The original legal complaint has examples of the blatantly religious curriculum imparted to Mercer County public school elementary students. One lesson promoted creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Students were 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 plaintiffs will submit additional briefing on April 8 to explain that Deal can pursue nominal damages. When the case is finally resolved, FFRF and Deal may appeal the judge’s decision that claims for an injunction are moot. An appeal would be heard again by the 4th Circuit.
“While we are very glad FFRF’s lawsuit got these fundamentalist Christian classes out of Mercer County schools, we believe it is important for the school district to give our plaintiff and the court true assurance that they will not bring back proselytizing classes,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is determined to persist — in the service of the First Amendment and a secular public education system.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the largest freethought association in North America, with 31,000 members all over the United States, including in West Virginia.