A West Virginia school district has agreed to pay $225,000 in a lawsuit brought about by an atheist group over an elective Bible class.
Last week, Mercer County Schools agreed to the settlement with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), concluding litigation that began in 2017. At issue was the West Virginia school district's Bible in the Schools (BITS) program.
"We are pleased that this violation involving the illegal proselytizing of youngsters has come to a mutual resolution," FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, via Yahoo! News. "But it should not take a lawsuit and years of effort to stop blatantly unconstitutional school programs."
Atheist Group Filed a Lawsuit Against the West Virginia School District for Its Elective Bible Class
Back in January 2017, the FFRF filed a lawsuit against Mercer County on behalf of Elizabeth Deal, who claims that her daughter had been ostracized for refusing to take the elective Bible class. FRFF describes itself as a group that "works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church."
According to the lawsuit, the elective Bible class "advances and endorses one religion, improperly entangles public schools in religious affairs, and violates the personal consciences of nonreligious and non-Christian parents and students." It also alleged that the West Virginia school district forced Deal to "choose between putting her child in a Bible study class or subjecting her child to the risk of ostracism by opting out of the program," which they believe violates the "rights of conscience" of Deal and her daughter, therefore violating their First Amendment rights.
Judge Dismissed the Lawsuit Filed by Atheist Group
In November 2017, U. S. District Court Judge David A. Faber dismissed the lawsuit brought forth by FFRF, claiming that the West Virginia school district was deciding on possible revisions to the elective Bible class curriculum, the Christian Post reported. Judge Faber wrote that whether the court would conduct a factual analysis of the BITS program, the West Virginia school district "might remain capable of developing, adopting, and teaching a new BITS curriculum in conformity with Establishment Clause jurisprudence."
Because of the BITS' "clouded future," the judge said that it would still impact Deal and her daughter and in the event the elective Bible class returned and is found to have violated constitutional law, the district would be "more than capable of granting a preliminary injunction." The judge added that the "Supreme Court jurisprudence has by no means established an absolute bar to the Bible being taught and studied in the public school system."
In December 2018, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the previous ruling, sending the case back to the lower court. About a year later in January 2019, the Mercer County's board of education passed a resolution to end the elective Bible class instead of making revisions to it.