West Virginia School District Sued Over Bible-Study Program

(CN) – The mother of a West Virginia kindergarten student is suing her school district over its “Bible in the Schools” program which she says unconstitutionally advances and endorses the beliefs of one religion.

In a complaint filed Jan. 18 in the Southern District of West Virginia, the mother, identified as Jane Doe, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, say that West Virginia’s Mercer County school district provides Bible study to 4,000 elementary and middle school students in 19 public schools.

According to the complaint, the program advances Christianity and a Christian worldview, and includes lessons that focus on the crucifixion of Jesus, the creation of the Earth, the Ten Commandments, the birth of Jesus, and events recounted in the New Testament.

The plaintiffs say that while the school district maintains participation in the classes is voluntary, an overwhelming majority of students choose to attend. District policy also requires a reasonable alternative for the non-consenting minority yet, according to the complaint, many of those students have not been provided with alternative instruction.

The plaintiffs insist this is a violation of the students’ civil rights, and improperly entangles the state in religious matters and beliefs.

Further, Jane Doe argues while the program is officially voluntarily, not participating in it would expose her child, identified as Jamie Doe, to ostracism.

Jane Doe also complains that the program encroaches on her parental rights by using government coercion to subject her child to religious indoctrination and forcing her to raise her child adhering to a set of religious beliefs that she does not hold.

The plaintiffs seek a determination that the program is unconstitutional; injunctive relief, preventing the district from continuing the classes; and unspecified damages.

They are represented by Marcus Schneider of the Steele Schneider law firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Representatives of the defendants, which include the Mercer County Board of Education, the Mercer County schools, and district superintendent Deborah Akers, did not return phone calls seeking comment.