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
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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