(CN) – The mother of a 5-year-old boy had no constitutional right to read Bible verses to her son’s kindergarten classmates during an “All About Me” presentation at school, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
Donna Kay Busch, a self-described Evangelical Christian, was invited to participate in a socialization program in which students shared their hobbies and interests. Teacher Jaime Reilly designated a week to each student in her class. Students made posters about themselves and brought a special snack or toy to share in class, and parents were asked to “share a talent, short game, small craft, or story” about their child.
Busch allegedly asked her son, Wesley, which book he wanted her to read aloud to the class, and he replied, “the Bible.”
So Busch chose verses from Psalm 118, explaining that she and Wesley frequently read from the Book of Psalms; she thought the children would like Psalms because they’re similar to poetry; and she wanted to avoid verses that referred to Jesus, which she worried would upset people.
If children asked questions about the reading, Busch said she was prepared to reply that “it was ancient psalms and ancient poetry and one of Wesley’s favorite things to hear.”
On the morning of her scheduled visit, she told Reilly about her plan to read scriptures. Reilly deferred to Principal Thomas Cook, who told Busch that proselytizing was against school policy.
Busch argued that the school had allowed other parents to read from religious holiday books, including “Hooray for Hanukkah,” “The Magic Dreidels” and “The Matzoh Ball Fairy.”
School officials explained that the materials fit with the social studies curriculum, which included holidays.
Busch was ultimately blocked from reading from the Bible and had to select another book.
Busch filed suit against the Marple Newtown School District, along with its board and officials, claiming they violated her and her son’s constitutional rights, including free speech and equal protection.
The Philadelphia-based appeals court upheld the lower court’s ruling for the defendants, saying the school had a right to bar speech that promotes a religion.
“[T]he school’s actions do not appear to have been motivated by discrimination against Wesley’s religion,” Chief Judge Scirica wrote. “Rather, the school identified a significant difference between the identification of a religious belief and certain holiday-oriented religious materials, on the one hand, and a parent’s reading of holy scripture, on the other hand, which it considered a form of proselytizing.”
Judge Hardiman dissented in part, arguing that Busch’s attempt to read Psalm 118 fell within the guidelines for the project, and that the school’s decision to block her reading constituted viewpoint discrimination.
“I believe the school went too far in this case in limiting participating in ‘All About Me’ week to nonreligious perspectives,” Hardiman wrote.
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