The U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals will hear the case of a Tennessee fourth grader who claims he was barred from holding a Bible study during recess at school, with the legal group representing his case insisting that the original trial was unfair.
The lawsuit began in 2004 when Luke Whitson and some of his friends at Karns Elementary began holding Bible studies out on the playground. According to the Whitsons' complaint, Luke was told by the principal that his study sessions were against school rules.
Knox County Schools quickly introduced a new policy that allowed students to read religious texts during their "discretionary time," but that was not enough to resolve the Whitsons' lawsuit, which seeks $1 in nominal damages.
According to the school district, Principal Cathy Summa received a parental complaint about Luke's study group. Summa then met with three different students who wanted to have an adult-led Bible study group, but she turned down their requests due to a school policy that bars adults from leading Bible study during school hours.
Although Summa never met with Whitson, the principal alleges that a teacher told one of Luke's friends that organized Bible study was not allowed during school hours, but that they could continue to keep their Bibles and read them on their own.
"The children understood they could still have their Bibles and talk about them," said Gary Prince, attorney for Knox County Schools.
During his testimony, Whitson also admitted that not one teacher or administrator asked him to not bring his Bible to school or talk about it during recess.
In 2009, a Knoxville Jury ruled in favor of the school district, but the Whitsons' lawyer, Nathan Kellum, claims that the judge made several errors during the case, leading to an unfair trial. Kellum serves as senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) at its service center in Memphis.
Jonathan Scruggs, a representative for ADF, told The Christian Post that the case should never have been put before a jury. According to Scruggs, cases seeking damages of less than $20 are supposed to be seen by a bench judge instead.
Although the Whitsons only sought $1 in damages, their initial case was put before a jury.
Additionally, Scruggs told The Christian Post that Kellum and the Whitsons will contend in their appeal that the jury was given improper instructions and the testimony of at least one witness was admitted in spite of being hearsay, along with other complaints.