U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court Resurrects Suit Against 'Bible in School' Program

A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit against a West Virginia school district over its Bible studies program.

In Deal v. Mercer County Board of Education, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the 30-minute and 45-minute classes marginalized a student who did not want to participate. The elementary school student was not forced to attend, but enrolled in another district over it.

The Bible studies program was also suspended, leading a trial judge to dismiss the case as moot. In reversing, the appeals panel apparently feared a second coming.

A Second Coming

The "Bible in the Schools" program had been running in the school district for almost 80 years. Judge Diana Motz, writing for the appeals court, said suspending the program was not enough.

"Indeed, the county has characterized the suspension as part of a regular review process, a dubious suggestion in view of the program's uninterrupted, decades-long history," Motz wrote.

She suggested the trial court should enjoin the Bible studies program. Then the student would not have to go to a neighboring school district to avoid "state-sponsored religious instruction," Motz said.

"Moreover, an injunction would also alleviate appellants' ongoing feelings of marginalization," the judge said.

"Feelings of Marginalization"

The student, identified in the decision as "Jessica Roe," was a first-grader when she started at the Mercer County school. She continued until the fourth grade, when her agnostic parent removed her.

In their complaint, they said the elementary school first made the girl sit in the back of Bible class and later sent her to the library and a computer lab. Her mother said other students also bullied her daughter for her lack of religious affiliation.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, speaking for the family, said the school district should stop "indoctrinating" students.

"No family should suffer the way this family did just because it was unwilling to have religion forced upon it in a public school system," she said.

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