|FFRF sues Spartanburg school district over bad SC law|
FFRF was looking for plaintiffs last fall - I'm glad they found some!
District 7 sued over religion: Off-site Christianity courses challenged for offering credit
http://www.goupstate.com/article/200906 ... on-courses
Spartanburg Times (S.C.)
By Lee G Healy
June 18, 2009
In the suit, the plaintiffs, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and two District 7 parents, Robert Moss and Ellen Tillett, argue that a religious education course offered to Spartanburg High School students for the past two years is unconstitutional.
The elective course is held at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, which is adjacent to SHS, and offered by Spartanburg County Bible Education in School Time. According to the SCBEST Web site, its high school curriculum entails Bible study on "historical background, archaeology, original languages, and other major scholarly discussions." A second part to the course aids students in examining how to live as Christians.
The suit doesn't challenge the course itself, but rather that credit is offered. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court approved released-time instruction that allows students to attend off-campus religious education classes with parental permission. In 2006, the S.C. Legislature approved that elective credit could be given for released-time classes in religious instruction as long as evaluations are based on purely secular criteria and no public funds are involved.
George Daly, a Charlotte, N.C., civil rights attorney who is representing the plaintiffs, said the law interferes with First Amendment rights separating church and state.
"The theory is that it not only hurts the government, but it hurts the church," Daly said. "If the church has to tone things down in order to be acceptable, that interferes with the strength of religion, and if the government has to adhere to religious truths rather than other truths, it interferes with the strength of the government."
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the case against the district is key in getting South Carolina law overturned.
"It is a very troubling precedent, and we felt we couldn't let it stand," Gaylor said. "It is an invasion of proselytizers in our school system that puts them on the same footing as a classroom teacher."
Gaylor said offering credit for the course not only gives Christian students an academic advantage but also crosses the line between educational and devotional.
"Fine, take their released time, but don't equate it with an academic class because the school is not determining the grade, this religious instructor is, and the school is just accepting it," Gaylor said.
"It's one thing to have the released time, but it's quite another thing for the school to be giving academic credit when they have no control over the teachers."
District 7 Superintendent Thomas White said he had no comment, but he did confirm that the district's attorney had been contacted regarding the suit.