BLUEFIELD, W.V. — A federal judge appointed to the bench by then-President George H.W. Bush has dismissed a lawsuit against a more than 75-year-old elective Bible course offered in a school district in West Virginia after the district voted to discontinue the program.
U.S. District Judge David Faber said that because the Mercer County Board of Education voted in May to suspend its Bible in the Schools (BITS) course, there is currently no case. While the Board voted to halt the program at least for one year to allow a “thorough review of and modification to the [BITS] curriculum,” attorneys for the board, according to Faber, told the court that “the BITS curriculum of which plaintiffs are complaining does not exist and will not come back.”
However, Faber also noted that some statements in the media seemed to contrarily indicate that the board would like to revive the program at some point.
“Nevertheless, statements of defendants in the newspapers indicate defendants’ desire to resurrect the BITS program after a thorough review,” he wrote. “The defendant, Deborah Akers reportedly emphasized ‘Mercer County Schools is continuing its efforts to keep the Bible in the Schools program,’ although a timetable for a new BITS program has not been established.”
While it remains unclear as to whether or not the program will return, Faber concluded that he would accept “defendants’ representations as a binding commitment that the past BITS program no longer exists and that BITS has been altogether suspended for at least one year.”
Therefore, “[t]his court finds ‘it too speculative whether the problem [the Does] present will ever need solving; we find the legal issues [the Does] raise not fit for our consideration, and the hardship to [the Does] of biding [their] time insubstantial,” Faber stated.
Should the program return and present constitutional issues, the court would be willing to rehear the case, he said.
As previously reported, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit on behalf of an atheist parent in January whose daughter Jamie attends an elementary school in Mercer County, and is in kindergarten.
She expressed concern that because most students choose to attend the elective Bible classes, her daughter could be ostracized by others if she decided not to join the program. She stated that her only choices were 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 claimed.
FFRF later amended its complaint, additional additional plaintiffs, including a woman who moved her daughter out of the school system because other students were allegedly taunting her about the matter.
The group says it plans to appeal the ruling.
As previously reported, until the program was halted in May, the Mercer County school system’s “Bible in the Schools” had been available on a weekly basis in over a dozen elementary schools and three middle schools. The elective course was paid for by a non-profit organization, and the district required schools to offer an alternative for students who preferred another option.