Similar course dropped in Texas schools after lawsuit challenged constitutionality

CRAIG COUNTY, VA – The ACLU of Virginia has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Craig County School Board, seeking information about the Board’s approval of a Bible course that may unconstitutionally promote religious beliefs in public schools.
“For now this is merely an inquiry,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “However, we are concerned that the course proposed by the Craig County School Board may not be an impartial study of the Bible, which is permissible, but an attempt to advocate for one set of religious beliefs to the exclusion of others in a public school. And that violates our most fundamental notions of religious liberty and equality.”
According to OurValley.org, the Craig County School Board voted on May 6 to offer a course entitled “The Bible in History and Literature” at Craig County High School beginning this fall. At its meeting, the School Board watched a promotional film about the course that featured actor Chuck Norris.
From its title and Norris's endorsement, the course chosen by the Craig County School Board is presumably the product of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS). In 2007 eight parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Ector County School Board in Texas, claiming that the NCBCPS course it had adopted violated students’ rights by promoting particular religious beliefs in public schools. The case, which was handled by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way, was settled in March of this year when Ector County school officials agreed to drop the NCBCPS course and adopt one consistent with the Constitution.
“With the FOIA request, we’ll be able to obtain the official documents,” added Willis, “but we’re also interested in finding out more about what went on at the school board meeting on May 6 and in hearing from parents who have, or will have, children at Craig County High School. It’s important that we collect all the information we can.”
In court papers filed in the Texas case, the plaintiffs said that the NCBCPS’s program is not a serious scholarly attempt to teach the Bible, but promotes a particular interpretation of the Bible that is not shared by most Christians in the world.
“Public schools in Craig County may teach students about religion and they can offer courses that include studying the Bible,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “But there’s a legal line between teaching about religion in public schools and promoting particular religious viewpoints. If Craig County’s teachers will be following the NCBCPS course recommendations, they will certainly be crossing that line.”
Contact: Kent Willis, (804) 644-8022

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