The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, is asking the Supreme Court to review a case in Idaho in which judges ruled that a publicly-funded charter school was violating the state constitution for using the Bible as a textbook in a secular history class.
The Idaho Public Charter School Commission issued a ban in 2009 on all religious texts after Nampa Classical Academy (NCA) attempted to instruct students with the Bible. The ban was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit earlier this year, which said in its decision that because NCA is a publicly-funded school, it is “subject to the supervision and control of the state, and exists at the state’s mercy,” and therefore can be restricted in which textbooks it uses in the classroom.
NCA chairman Mike Moffett argued that restricting which textbooks he can use in a classroom was a violation of his academic freedom rights as a teacher. However, the court disagreed, arguing the state has the right to limit which texts are used in its schools “because Idaho charter schools are governmental entities [and] the curriculum presented in such a school is not the speech of teachers, parents, or students, but that of the Idaho government.”
In a Dec. 21 press release announcing ADF's intention to contest the ruling at the Supreme Court level, SDF Senior Counsel David Cortman said, “It’s ridiculous that a historical religious text that has been studied as part of Western Civilization for centuries is somehow automatically off limits.”
He added: “It’s no wonder that the call for school choice has become so popular: When government officials ban the objective study of all religious texts, including the most important literary works of all time -- such as the Bible, the Iliad, and the Odyssey -- it only contributes to the further dumbing-down of government-run education.”
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled in Abington Township School District v. Schempp that prayer and Bible devotion in a public school was unconstitutional, but that the Bible could be used as a historical and literary text.
"The Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities" as long as it is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education,” the court decided.
In a 2007 Time magazine article, it was reported that the use of the Bible as a literary and historical text was on the rise, with at least 460 school districts in 37 states providing classes utilizing the Bible in some form.
However, usage of the Bible had not been easy for NCA, which had been accused of walking too thin of a line between church and state for a public school.
In a 2009 Boise Weekly article, NCA founder Isaac Moffet, the twin brother of Mike Moffet, said he would be borrowing the curriculum of a local Christian school, but with slight adjustments in order to fit the public school requirements.
"Some of the books are too devotional, if you will, so we're not going to use that particular one," Moffett said of the Christian school's reading list.
If the Supreme Court decides to hear NCA's case and rules in favor of the school, the ruling could have important implications on the freedom of public schools to use the Bible in the classroom. However, it is unclear what effect that will have on NCA.
In June, the school had its charter revoked one year after going bankrupt with $867,000 in debt, including 15 employees still owed wages ranging from $700 to $5,500 each, the Idaho Statesman reported. However, the Moffett brothers hope to resurrect the school.
“There’s been some talk of coming back,” Mike Moffett said in June. “We’ve already submitted a revised petition to the state for a sufficiency review.”