HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A woman barred from reading the Bible in her son’s kindergarten class is suing a suburban Philadelphia district, claiming it is infringing on her right to express her religious beliefs – and discriminating against Christians.
“What Wesley has learned in all of this is that the Bible is bad in school, and they don’t like it,” Donna Busch said of her 6-year-old son.
With the help of the Rutherford Institute, a Christian-oriented civil liberties group based in Charlottesville, Va., Busch, who attends a Baptist church, filed a federal lawsuit May 3 against the Marple Newtown School District.
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Wesley’s teacher had invited Busch to her classroom at Culbertson Elementary School on Oct. 18 as part of “Me Week,” in which the class would learn more about a featured student, according to the complaint.
One of the activities involves the student’s parent reading aloud from a favorite book in class. Busch said her son’s favorite book is the Bible.
But before the teacher would let Busch continue, she said she would have to get permission from Principal Thomas Cook. After a meeting in the hall, Cook informed Busch she couldn’t read the Bible in class, the lawsuit said.
“He was agitated and upset about it, and felt I should know that, according to him, it was against the law,” Busch said.
Busch’s complaint alleges the Bible-reading ban is part of a pattern of discrimination against Christians. Students were allowed to read a book about Judaism, learn about the dreidel game, and make Hanukkah decorations – but were prohibited from making Christmas decorations, the lawsuit claimed.
School board president Edward Partridge declined to comment Tuesday, but said the board was investigating.
A similar incident in Medford, N.J., spawned litigation in which the courts sided with a public school teacher who banned a first-grader from reading in class a story from “The Beginner’s Bible” in 1996.
In that case, a federal judge and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the teacher was within her rights to restrict access to what the school calls a “captive audience” of 6- and 7-year-olds.
Ted Hoppe, a lawyer representing Busch, said a key difference is that Wesley’s school allegedly seems to look more favorably upon Judaism than Christianity.
“We want to get an understanding with the school and the school district that Culbertson will be an environment that’s not hostile to Christian beliefs and practices,” Hoppe said.