BLUEFIELD, W.V. — An atheist woman whose daughter attends a public elementary school in West Virginia has filed a lawsuit to challenge a more than 75-year-old elective Bible course as she “wishes to raise her child … without religion.”
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit on behalf of the woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous under the name “Jane Doe.” Her daughter Jamie attends an elementary school in Mercer County, and is in kindergarten.
The Mercer County school system offers a “Bible in the Schools” program, which is available on a weekly basis in over a dozen elementary schools and three middle schools.
The course, which is paid for by a non-profit organization, is elective—that is, it is available voluntarily for students who desire to learn about the Bible. The district requires that schools offer an alternative for students who prefer another option.
However, the woman is concerned that because most students choose to attend the classes, her daughter could be ostracized by others if she decides not to join the program, which has been in place since the 1930’s. She feels that her only choices are to expose her daughter to Christianity against her will or risk having her daughter looked down upon by others.
“Jamie will either be forced to attend Bible indoctrination classes against the wishes and conscience of Jane Doe, or Jamie will be the only or one of only a few children who do not participate. Jamie will therefore be made conspicuous by absence, and essentially be identified as a non-Christian or nonbeliever, subjecting Jamie to the risk of ostracism from peers and even school staff,” the suit claims.
FFRF contends that the Bible program violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which mandates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
“Defendants’ policies, customs, and actions have the effect of advancing and endorsing Christianity over all other religions and religion in general over non-religion,” the legal challenge states. “Defendants’ actions improperly entangle the state in religious matters and beliefs.”
It also asserts that the program violates the woman’s parental rights, as well as her First Amendment rights.
“Forcing Jane Doe to choose between putting her child in a Bible study class or subjecting her child to the risk of ostracism by opting out of the program violates the rights of conscience of Jane and Jamie Doe, and therefore their First Amendment rights,” the suit reads.
FFRF is asking that the court declare the offering of the Bible course unconstitutional and that it place a permanent injunction against the program.
While the school system has not yet commented on the suit, Teresa Russell, data information specialist for Mercer County Schools, reiterated to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that the weekly class is optional.
“Students are not required to take the course,” she emphasized. “They opt in rather than opting out.”
As previously reported, in 1828, just 52 years after the nation’s founding, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
Webster, a schoolmaster, wrote the quote in his preface to the nation’s first dictionary, which often cited Christianity and the Bible.