Lawsuit Calls for Elimination of Bible Classes in West Virginia Schools

A Wisconsin-based lobby for the separation of church and state filed a joint lawsuit last month with an anonymous mother of a Mercer County, West Virginia kindergartner. The foundation called Freedom from Religion is accusing the county of running "bible indoctrination classes" to "endorse" Christianity.

“It is very important that what we teach at home can be moved on to the school and instilled there and moved to the church and it’s still there so that it moves in a circle,” one parent, Cherilyn Thomas, told CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil when he visited the county.

"It doesn’t teach one religion," Thomas said in defense of the "Bible in the Schools" program at the center of the lawsuit. "It’s not a Baptist Bible, it’s not a Presbyterian Bible; it’s the Bible, and it is God.”

More than 4,000 students attend the weekly course administered by the school district. Throughout Mercer's 19 elementary schools, the enrollment rate is nearly 100 percent. 

“How do you like class?” Dokoupil asked Teagan, Thomas' daughter. 

“I like it very much because I want to learn all the stuff in the Bible,” Teagan said.

“Do all the kids in your class go to Bible class too?” Dokoupil wanted to know. 

“Only one goes out and plays on the computer, because she can’t hear what the Bible says... Because her dad just doesn’t want her to hear all the Bible stuff,” Teagan told Dokoupil. 

Tegan frowned on her classmate's behavior.  

“I think that that’s bad," she concluded. "She needs to go to Bible class."

According to Hiram Sasser, a lawyer representing the school board, “To completely eliminate a Bible course would be an unprecedented and drastic step."

Nelson Tebbe, a professor of constitutional law and religious freedom at Brooklyn Law School, believed the case will be decided by the class's core function. 

“The public school would just have to ensure that it really did have a secular purpose,” Tebbe assessed. “But because this program and programs like it are structured just around the Bible, courts will be skeptical as to whether they really have that kind of neutral impact.”

On the other hand, some parents believe the burden of religious education should be left up to families, not the school system. Elizabeth Deal is one of them. Her daughter, Sophie, opted out of the program, only to get bullied by other children, causing the Deals to ultimately leave the district. 

“They taunted her about it. They told her that she was going to hell, that I was going to hell, that her father was going to hell,” Deal said. "It was very hurtful of course because she is my daughter and I don’t want her to hurt,” Deal said.


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