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School Favors Christian Slant On Teaching
August 27th 1999 5:47 P.M.
School district sued over textbooks laden with religious messages

By Jeremy Leaming
First Amendment Center


An eighth-grader and her mother have sued a California public school district that bought Christian textbooks for its curriculum and openly acknowledges its mission is intertwined with Christian teachings.

On Aug. 24, a day after classes got under way at a rural K-8 school near Bakersfield, Calif., the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California challenged the district's openly religious mission in federal court. The ACLU, representing a student and her mother, argues that the school is endorsing Christianity in violation of the religious-liberty clauses of the First Amendment and the state Constitution.

The Belridge School District, founded in the early '90s, educates children through the eighth grade. Its mission statement declares that "education is effective and has purpose when we believe that God has given us the task to educate our children through love." The statement includes a list of principles that are "actively incorporated" into the school's curriculum. These include "Moral and Character Development of Students and Staff," and "To Honor God, Parents, Country and School." According to the school district, its mission can "only be accomplished through a unified effort between families, school and God."

Rita Elliot, 12, planned to attend eighth grade at Belridge this month, until her mother, Veronica, became concerned about textbooks the school district said would be used in all grades for the 1999-2000 school year. The books, published by A Beka Book, a company that describes itself as "the largest Christian textbook publisher in the world," is rife with biblical quotations and Christian dogma. Although Veronica voiced concerns about the books to school officials, Superintendent John Wentland said at a public meeting on Aug. 20 that none of the book's religious messages would be deleted from the books. A lawyer representing the school district qualified that position after the lawsuit was filed.

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