- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee county that grappled with religion in the classroom when it was the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 was ordered by a federal judge yesterday to stop holding Bible classes in its elementary schools.
The classes, which have been offered in Rhea County for 51 years, violate the constitutional separation of church and state, U.S. District Judge Allan Edgar ruled.
The 30-minute classes were held weekly for about 800 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the county's three elementary schools. Parental consent was not required and students were allowed to participate in alternative activities if they objected to the classes.
A couple with two children attending the schools had sued over the Bible classes, taught by students from Bryan College, a Christian college in Dayton named for the orator and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Dayton, about 40 miles west of Chattanooga, is where Bryan and the lawyer Clarence Darrow squared off in the courtroom during the prosecution of schoolteacher John T. Scopes for teaching evolution instead of the biblical story of creation.
Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but his conviction was thrown out on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
In the more recent case, the Rhea County school system contended that the Bible classes include "character education."
But the judge ruled that county school officials "acted with both purpose and effect to endorse and advance religion in the public schools."
The identities of the parents who sued have not been disclosed. A branch of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit self-described "nontheist" organization, was also a plaintiff.
"We are always happy to see the wall of separation between church and state buttressed or strengthened," said Dan Barker, a spokesman.
Rhea County school board Chairman John Mincey said the decision would be appealed.


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