The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether or not to uphold a 2010 decision to prohibit Idaho public schools from using religious texts and documents despite their historical value.
Attorneys asked the court to throw out the full ban against the use of the Bible as a resource in school curriculum. The ban was implemented by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission to keep Nampa Classical Academy charter school from including the Christian text in its curriculum.
Attorneys advocating against the ban say the commission overreacted in its decision.
"The government’s hyperactive censorship of classical religious texts severely limits the education of students by leaving them with an incomplete understanding of history and their heritage," stated attorney David Cortman, a senior counsel with religious liberties law firm Alliance Defense Fund.
Cortman is urging the court to consider the Bible's historical and cultural presence in American history as well as a Supreme Court ruling protecting the religious book as an educational tool.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that religious documents such as the Bible can be used in an appropriate course of study. Cortman contends the NCA's intended use of the Bible should be protected because of this federal precedent.
"A wholesale ban on such books conflicts with established U.S. Supreme Court precedent stating that even 'the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like.' On these grounds and others, we trust that the 9th Circuit will reverse the district court's decision," he said in a statement.
Cortman also argues that the local school district – not the charter school commission – is the entity allowed by law to make the ultimate determination on how to implement the state's curriculum standards.
The hearings are a continuation of the NCA's 2010 lawsuit against the Idaho Public Charter School system. The academy was a then-emerging school that had been in the development process for six years. In 2008, the academy received approval from the State Board of Education. But in 2009, prior to the academy’s opening, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission threatened to revoke NCA’s charter if it used the Bible as any part of its curriculum.
Cortman challenged the threat, saying, "Not only is the commission on safe constitutional ground to allow the school to use the Bible as an educational resource, it would be unconstitutional to deny the school the ability to include it as one resource among its many other texts."
ADF argued in an August 2009 memorandum that the Bible is a historical text that, along with dozens of other religious and secular writings, has been used as a resource in school curriculum to enrich instruction of literature, history, and culture, among other topics.
Despite the memorandum, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission took steps to completely exclude the Bible from any charter school as well as from all other public schools within the state.
Cortman and the ADF then sued on the academy's behalf. Last May, the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho dismissed the lawsuit.
ADF hopes that its second appeal will be successful for the sake of all Idaho public schools.
As for NCA, the legal case has put a strain on the school.
NCA Headmaster Val Bush resigned from his position with the school at the end of the previous school year. The school has also suffered financially, reports the blog the Idaho Freedom Foundation. According to the blog, NCA's financial challenges eventually led to its closure last summer after completing one year of instruction with more than 500 students.