Ind. woman sues over school's on-campus Bible class

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A Mooresville woman is suing her son's public school, alleging that its practice of allowing some students to attend Bible classes once a week on school grounds while others stay behind without instructional time is unconstitutional.

The woman, identified only as M.W. in the lawsuit against the Mooresville Consolidated School Corporation, is the mother of an 8-year-old student at Neil Armstrong Elementary School.

The Morgan County school allows third- and fourth-grade students to leave the school for one hour a week to attend Bible classes in a trailer on school property, the lawsuit states.

Students who do not take part stay in school but do not have instructional time, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 11 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

Steve Harris, an attorney for the Mooresville Consolidated School Corporation, said on Oct. 17 that it is the district's policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Although teachers at Neil Armstrong Elementary do not teach the class, they are involved because they collect parental permission slips to attend the program, said Jackie Suess, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is representing the mother.

Also, the mother said a teacher asked her son on the first day of school why he was not attending the classes, the lawsuit states.

"Her little 8-year-old child came home crying more than once because he felt sort of singled out for not participating," Suess said.

For the program to be constitutional, Suess said, the school should not be involved in any way. Teachers should not hand out enrollment forms for the program and the classes should not be held on school property, she said.

"We're not attacking religious-education release programs," Suess said. "They can be constitutional if they're done correctly."

The Bible class is run by a private group called the Morgan County Schools of Weekday Religious Education. In a letter explaining the program to parents, the group said the classes are non-denominational and focus on the Bible. An offering is collected each week to help pay for classroom expenses.

"Three aims are stressed weekly: daily Bible reading, daily prayer and encouragement to attend church school and worship in the church of your choice," the letter states. "A selection of Bible readings and a scripture applicable to the lesson are sent home with the child each week. Pupils are encouraged to memorize the scripture."