The Odessa American tells us that following the E.C.I.S.D. trustees meeting on 1/22/08 the trustees met privately with the ACLU lawyers about the recent mediation in the case of Moreno vs. Ector County Independent School District, et al. See OA article.
The case was brought by ACLU, ACLU of Texas and People for the American Way Foundation along with some Ector County residents. Lawyers from Jenner & Block are making the case for the plaintiffs. Liberty Legal Institute is providing the defense.
The issue is whether the students in the Bible class are taught "The Bible," like a Sunday school class, or about the Bible, like a history or literature class.
You can find a link to the plaintiffs' complaint at the ACLU site. However, and this is somewhat annoying, you can't get the defendants' answer there. Until now the defendant's answer was not available on line without having to pay for it. So as a service to readers, you can download it here. Click to Download defendants_answer.pdf
If anyone is interested in this case I recommend reading both the complaint and the answer.
The main concern of the plaintiffs is summed up on page 2 of the complaint, as follows:
Public schools may constitutionally offer courses about the Bible "when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education". Sch. Dist. Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225 (1963 ). This action seeks declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the Defendants, who have officially authorized and are now offering and teaching in ECISD public high schools a course of instruction on the Bible (the Bible courses) that is not presented objectively but instead actively promotes a particular religious viewpoint to public school students in a manner prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Defendants adopted the Bible Course with the primary purpose of advancing religion generally and a specific religious interpretation of the Bible particularly, and the Course has the primary effect of promoting, advancing, and endorsing religion generally and a particular set of religious beliefs specifically. The Bible Course does not adhere to the constitutional standard of objectivity, but instead presents the Bible from a singular religious point of view that knight be appropriate for Sunday schools but has no place in public schools.
In addition, it might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.
So it's a fact issue. Were the students taught the Bible course pursuant to Supreme Court guidelines?
The ACLU complaint alleges that the ECISD used the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. NCBCPS gets a lot of criticism for their Bible curriculum. Mark Chancey, SMU religious studies professor, is a vocal critic, and here's an article in which he lays out some of his concerns. To what extent the ECISD Bible course relied on the NCBCPS isn't clear from the Defendant's answer, and if the case goes to trial then witnesses will provide that evidence.
The parties have now gone through mediation, and CBS7 produces what it purports to be the contract points (see). Chief among them would be the appointment of an 18 member committee of which 16 would be needed to approve a curriculum. Assuming 16 committee members could agree on a curriculum, it would be strictly monitored.
I starting writing this post long before the settlement proposal was made public, and here was my early prediction:
But it doesn't cost anything to speculate, so here's an early prediction. The mediation will probably result in an agreement between the parties whereby the ECISD keeps a Bible course but agrees to allow close monitoring so that course remains "about the Bible" and nothing more. And ECISD ends up paying the ACLU legal fees. Whatever high minded motives a lawyer might claim, he/she is still in business for the money.
Well, the part about the legal fees was wrong, or maybe that's yet to come.
So that brings us up to date. Now we sit back and wait for a decision of the ECISD trustees of whether to accept or reject the proposal.