- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia school district is again asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that targets its “Bible in the Schools” program, saying a new parent who has joined the lawsuit lacks legal standing because she put her child in a different school district almost a year ago.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports (https://bit.ly/2pIN3A9 ) that Mercer County schools filed the motion in Bluefield federal court. They previously asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit last month.

In January, Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. filed the lawsuit against the Mercer County Board of Education, Mercer County Schools and Superintendent Deborah Akers.

The Wisconsin-based group is representing an unnamed parent of a Mercer County kindergarten student. Patrick Elliot, an attorney with the group, said the amended lawsuit seeks to end the Bible program.

The lawsuit says the parent who sued is an atheist and wants to raise her child without religion, but the child risks ostracism if she doesn’t take the optional Bible classes.

Attorneys for the school system contend she lacks legal standing because her kindergartener isn’t eligible yet for the classes, which are offered starting in first grade.

Another woman, Elizabeth Deal, has since joined in the lawsuit. Her daughter attended Mercer County schools from 2012 to 2016 and transferred to a Virginia school. Attorneys for Mercer schools say Deal lacks legal standing because she has not said her daughter would re-enroll in Mercer County schools if the Bible program is eliminated.

The county school board administers the privately funded program, which takes in about $500,000 a year. The school district is being represented by First Liberty Institute of Plano, Texas, and O’Melvey & Myers LLP of Washington, D.C.

The board’s motion calls the lawsuit an attack on the constitutional right to offer optional Bible classes in public schools.

“The Constitution does not prohibit schools from teaching about religion or from using materials that have a religious basis,” the motion says. “.The Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like.”

However, the parties challenging the program say it’s taught more like Sunday school than a secular class.

“Jane Doe feels coerced by her government into subjecting her child to religious indoctrination and raising her child in a specific set of religious beliefs to which Jane Doe does not adhere,” the lawsuit states. “Elizabeth Deal felt coerced into sending her child to a religious class that she found objectionable.”


Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph, https://www.bdtonline.com

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