Court Affirms Ban on School Bible Classes

A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that argued weekly Bible classes are unconstitutional in the public schools of Rhea County (search), the same county where the "Scopes Monkey Trial" (search) pitted creationists (search) against evolutionists 79 years ago.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati agreed Monday with a February 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar of Chattanooga.

Edgar ruled that the Bible Education Ministry program in Rhea County violated the First Amendment's clause calling for separation of church and state (search).

The 30-minute classes were held weekly for about 800 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the county's three elementary schools. Parental consent was not required and students were allowed to participate in alternative activities if they objected to the classes.

Rhea County superintendent Sue Porter said Monday that school board members would likely discuss whether to appeal the latest ruling at their Thursday night meeting. Bible classes had been offered in Rhea County for 51 years.

"I'm disappointed, not surprised though," Porter said.

The appeals judges ruled that although school officials contended that the classes were value-driven, teaching responsibility and positive morals, they were "also teaching the Bible as religious truth."

The county's city of Dayton, about 35 miles northwest of Chattanooga, is where orator and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and the lawyer Clarence Darrow squared off in the courtroom during the 1925 prosecution of teacher John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in the public schools instead of the biblical story of creation.