Suit Alleges Creationism in West Virginia Schools

A brave mother in West Virginia is suing her local school system in Mercer County because her child’s school teaches creationism. We found this article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail of Charleston, West Virginia, the state capital: Mercer school board, superintendent sued over Bible classes. They have a comments feature. Here are some excerpts from the news story, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and a member of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit who’s a parent of a student at a public Mercer County elementary school filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to declare unconstitutional a Bible classes program in Mercer’s public school system.

The lawsuit — filed against the Mercer school board and Mercer schools Superintendent Deborah Akers in the Bluefield Division of the federal court system’s Southern District of West Virginia — alleges the “Bible in the Schools” program is active in 15 elementary schools, one intermediate school and three middle schools, serving about 4,000 students.

Here’s a copy of the complaint. It’s 16 pages long. The newspaper provides a summary:

The lawsuit alleges the classes are held for half an hour a week in elementary schools and 45 minutes a week in middle schools, during the regular school day. While the lawsuit states that the school system calls the classes “voluntary,” it alleges that the “overwhelming majority of students participate” and that “upon information and belief, students at many schools have not been receiving alternative instruction.”

What about creationism? No problem:

The lawsuit alleges the Bible classes include “Creationism instruction” that involves “having students imagine that human beings and dinosaurs existed at the same time.” It quotes one lesson as saying “So picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”

That is great education! Then the newspaper tells us:

The parent, only identified as “Jane Doe,” said in the lawsuit that she’s an atheist who is suing individually and on behalf of her daughter, called “Jamie Doe” in the document. Jane Doe said in the document that she wishes to raise Jamie Doe, who is in kindergarten, “without religion.”

The lawsuit says Jane Doe wishes for her daughter, when she enters the first grade, to not have to participate and also to not “be ostracized by other students or staff” for not participating. “Jamie will either be forced to attend Bible indoctrination classes against the wishes and conscience of Jane Doe, or Jamie will be the only or one of only a few children who do not participate,” the lawsuit says. “Jamie will therefore be made conspicuous by absence, and essentially be identified as a non-Christian or nonbeliever, subjecting Jamie to the risk of ostracism from peers and even school staff.”

How long can their anonymity be preserved? Those people may have to leave West Virginia. The article continues:

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare that the program violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article III of the West Virginia Constitution. It also asks a judge to prohibit the school board and its employees from “organizing, administering, or otherwise endorsing Bible classes,” and asks for payment for nominal damages and legal costs.

The news article has more information, but we’ve excerpted enough. Here’s where information may be found at the Justia website: Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. et al v. Mercer County Board of Education et al. The suit was filed on 18 January, so nothing’s happened yet. We’ll be watching.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Suit Alleges Creationism in West Virginia Schools

  1. What will Ken Ham say?

  2. Nice (and unexpected!) to see that all three comments so far support the parent.

  3. How will this be resolved? This family will be lucky not to be firebombed out of their home.

  4. According to Lauri Lebo’s excellent book “The Devil in Dover” and many articles about the trial, Ms Kitzmiller suffered verbal abuse and attacks from self-identified Christians. In a York Dispatch article they mentioned some of it:

    – One letter she received, scrawled in big letters across a sheet of yellow notebook paper, begins, “When you open your eyes in hell. …”
    – One boy at school told the girls to tell their mother to “go to hell,” delivering the message through a third person.
    -The atmosphere worsened as campaigning began for a hotly contested school board election and people prepared for the trial. There were nasty phone calls and confrontations in restaurants and on the streets.

    Imagine what your life is like when you stand against obvious injustice, when you publicly voice opposition to something the local school board was doing that is patently illegal! You get ostracized by members of your own community, often people you once considered friends and neighbors. These were attacks, enough to have her stop her daughters from even answering the phone! This isn’t the only example. I believe the parents who sued John Freshwater after he burned a cross into their son’s arm also received similar backlash.

    And Christians pride themselves on their open-mindedness and fairness . . . I guess as long as you are another Christian toeing the party line! This is one brave lady! But because of the narrow-mindedness of local Christians, I hope she can keep her identity secret!

  5. James Bolton Theuer

    Anyone armed? Want to volunteer for bodyguard duty?

  6. If Trump’s nominee for DOE, DeVos, is confirmed,many states will follow the lead of these schools.

  7. If Trump’s nominee for DOE, DeVos, is confirmed, many states will follow the lead of these schools

    Absolutely. This is why many of us did not vote for Trump.

  8. Dave Luckett

    Actually, the US is unusual in having such a high proportion of students in public schools. About 35% of Australian secondary students attend “private” schools – that is, fee-paying. (Do we need to go into the curious British definition of what is meant by “public” schools?)

    We don’t have an “established” religion, but Britain still does – nominally. Any of our “private” schools can teach a religion – and most of them are run by one religious body or another, so they generally teach their own. But our public schools – we call them “State schools” – may also teach religion, on an opt-out voluntary basis, and bring outside teachers to do it. They may also have chaplains.

    But – here’s the weird part – the existence of many “Church” schools and their continuing popularity is practically the only aspect of obvious religion left in this country. People who are actually religious and attend religious services weekly have now become a very small minority – on the order of 5% or less. I believe that figure is still above 50% in the US.

    So we’re mostly a godless mob, despite the fact that a good third or more of us were taught religion in school (and these were the best-funded and prestigious schools that turn out elites) and you’re far more religious, despite the fact that you mostly weren’t taught religion in school. It’s enough to make you question the efficacy of formal education altogether.

  9. I would love to see *real* study of the Bible in schools. Like evidence for multiple authorship of Genesis, estimates of dates of composition of different books, relationship to Zoroastrian thought, monotheism versus henotheism, evidence that Exodus is unhistorical and that the Israelites developed from, rather than displacing, the Canaanites, long history (back to Augustine) of allegorical interpretation … lots of lovely stuff that would really educate

  10. The variety of interpretations of Scripture goes back well before Augustine. There is the real scholar of Scripture in Christianity, Origen (about 185-254).
    There are mentions in the New Testament. And a book worth looking at is
    “The Bible As It Was”, by James L. Kugel (Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1997), which gives many examples of Scriptural interpretations, starting from the last couple of centuries BCE.

  11. Excellent summary of DeVos’s qualifications:
    An Open Letter To Senator Lamar Alexander About Betsy DeVos

  12. I just finished reading Ellory’s Protest. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Schempp in Abington v. Schempp many schools were defying or ignoring the ruling for 30 years after. Christians do not like to be told to keep their religion to themselves.

  13. Guess I have another donation to make to help fund this lawsuit. Where is my credit card?