Taking Liberties: Bible School or History Class?

To school teacher Isaac Moffett, the Bible is not just a religious document.

“It’s so much more,” he said. "It’s a primary source of history. It’s a primary teaching source of actually people who lived during the time period.”

Moffett is making his case as he walks across a dirt field in Nampa, Idaho.

“This used to be our campus,” he said. “This is where the classrooms were. Everything was right here.”

That was last year. This year it’s all gone, and all because Moffett and his fellow teachers used the Bible and other “religious texts” in their classrooms.

It’s a shocking set of circumstances that has one of the most conservative states in the country defending one of the most liberal views of the Constitutional separation between church and state.

At issue is the Nampa Classical Academy, a charter school, founded by Moffett in 2009. One year later, Idaho’s Board of Education shut the school down, citing its use of “religious texts” inside classrooms. Moffett says he only used the texts to teach history and is now suing the Board in federal court.

His lawyer calls it a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“I suspect the Supreme Court is going to eventually write the final book of this case,” David Cortman predicted as he too walked across the abandoned field that was once Nampa Classical.

Cortman is from The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group that defends Christian causes.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has held for decades now,” he explained, “that it is Constitutionally permissible to objectively teach the Bible in public schools for history or comparative literature.”

And he says that is exactly what Moffett and fellow teachers were doing in Nampa.

“This was not a religious school,” he said

No one from the Idaho Board of Education would comment citing the pending litigation. But in a 2009 memorandum, Idaho’s Attorney General’s office explained the state’s position:

“...Use of any religious texts within Idaho's classrooms, would likely violate the Idaho State Constitution," it said.

Surprisingly Idaho’s Constitution has one of the most liberal views about Church/state separation.

For instance, Title IX reads, "No Sectarian or religious tenants or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools."

Cortman said that line was written to prohibit Idaho’s religious groups from spreading their particular doctrines within public schools and not to banish the Bible altogether.

“This is a misrepresentation,” he said. In any case, he adds the Federal Constitution always trumps state constitutions.

“We feel we are on very firm ground on this one,” he said