(CN) – The 9th Circuit pored over Idaho’s ban on religious text in school curriculum, hearing arguments from a charter school that the restriction is unconstitutionally vague and violates the free speech rights of teachers, parents and students.
Napa Classical Academy planned on using sacred texts such as the Bible, Quran and Book of Mormon as part of its curriculum. After the Idaho Public Charter School Commission said using the religious works would violate Idaho’s constitution, the school, a parent, a teacher and a student sued for due-process and free-speech violations.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge dismissed the school’s federal suit, finding that “there simply is no law creating a First Amendment right of either teachers or students to use the Bible or any other sacred religious text as part of a public school curriculum.”
Napa’s attorney David Cortman, with Alliance Defense Fund, tried to impress the federal appeals court on Tuesday with the full scale of such restrictions, which he called a “complete exaggeration” of the state and federal establishment clauses.
“This sweeping book ban includes great works such as the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh,’ ‘The Iliad,’ ‘The Odyssey,’ ‘St. Anthony of the Desert,’ St. Augustine’s ‘Confessions,’ ‘Luther’s 95 Theses’ and so on.”
Judges Johnnie Rawlinson and William Fletcher seemed skeptical of Cortman’s First Amendment claims.
“How do you have a First Amendment argument if, in fact, it’s the government’s speech that’s being regulated?” Rawlinson asked. Cortman replied that it was the speech of a local school district, but Rawlinson countered that the school has to comply with the governing body.
Judge Fletcher wanted to know what First Amendment claim a parent and student had “in what is taught by a school run by the government.”
Cortman cited precedent that a student is entitled to receive information.
Arguing on behalf of Idaho’s attorney general, Michael Gilmore said the school’s lawsuit has no precedent.
“Plaintiffs in this case are asking this court to do what no other circuit of the United States Supreme Court currently does: hold that teachers or students have a free-speech right to add books or materials of their own choosing to the curriculum,” Gilmore said.
Rawlinson asked if it was the state’s view that the books could not be taught in an “educational manner.” Gilmore responded that there was abundant law saying that the religious texts could be taught consistently with the First Amendment, but the state had every right to say, “We do not want to do that.”
Cortman claimed in his rebuttal that the Charter School Commission has no authority to impose the ban on religious works and only the State Board of Education can decide curriculum. He also claimed that the school was shut down in retaliation for opposing the book-ban policy.