W. Va. School District Tries to Dismiss Atheist Lawsuit Seeking to End Bible Classes

The Mercer County Board of Education Administrative Offices, located in Princeton, West Virginia. | (Photo: Mercer County Schools)

A West Virginia school district being sued for offering an elective Bible class has filed a motion to dismiss the suit brought by an atheist group.

Mercer County Schools is being sued by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation for offering a course called "Bible in the Schools" since 1939.

The First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal firm, filed the motion to dismiss earlier this week on behalf of the school district.

In their motion, First Liberty argued that the FFRF lawsuit should be dismissed in part because the plaintiffs lack the standing to sue Mercer County Schools.

"The purported harms Plaintiffs allege are merely speculative, resulting from choices the [Plaintiffs] say they may have to make well into the future and related fear of potential ostracism that is grounded only in speculation, not in fact," read the motion.

"Plaintiffs lack standing to make those allegations because they have never actually encountered that curriculum and do not say it drives their decision-making (on the contrary, they allege only that the per se existence of a course in the Bible will cause them to be injured)."

The motion also argued that the suit should be dismissed because they say it is "a facial attack on Mercer County's constitutional right to offer optional Bible classes in public schools for the benefit of the many students who are interested in receiving Bible instruction."

"Plaintiffs' Complaint does not attack the particular curriculum of the Bible classes offering in Mercer County Schools; instead, it attacks the fact that any such classes, regardless of specific curriculum, exist," continued the motion.

A man reads the Holy Bible. | (Photo: Reuters)

"This does not state a cognizable legal claim, and flies in the face of decades of precedent. This requires dismissal with prejudice."

In January, the FFRF filed a lawsuit against Mercer County Schools for offering an elective Bible course that has existed in some capacity since 1939.

FFRF filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Bluefield Division on behalf of an unnamed parent who is raising her child as an atheist.

"This program 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," read the lawsuit.

"Forcing Jane Doe 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 violates the rights of conscience of Jane and Jamie Doe and therefore their First Amendment rights."

The lawsuit comes as the West Virginia legislature considers House Bill 2073, a proposed measure introduced in February that would require all schools in the state to offer Bible courses as an elective.

"The schools shall require regular courses of instruction by the completion of the 12th grade in the history of the United States, in civics, in the Constitution of the United States ... and making available, as an elective course of instruction, the history of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible," reads the bill in part.

"The state board shall, with the advice of the state superintendent, prescribe the courses of study covering these subjects for the public schools."

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