The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will not hear a case brought by a Pennsylvania woman who wanted to read a Bible passage to her son’s kindergarten class.
Backed by the Alliance Defense Fund, Donna Kay Busch sued the Marple Newtown School District in Newtown Square, outside of Philadelphia, in 2004 after officials told her she would not be permitted to read from the Book of Psalms to her son’s kindergarten class.
Busch’s son was taking part in a project called “All About Me,” during which students made projects that centered on their favorite activities. Her son, Wesley, made a poster that depicted his family, his pet hamster and a rendition of his church, which was displayed in the classroom.
Part of the project also involved an activity. Busch claimed that her son requested that she come to school and read the Bible to the class, since that was an activity they often did together. She claimed that the Bible was his favorite book.
At trial, however, Wesley’s babysitter testified that the boy’s favorite book was Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, a popular children’s tome.
Busch proposed reading selections from Psalm 118, but school officials said no. Principal Thomas Cook said he feared that subjecting young children to a mandatory reading from the Bible would violate the separation of church and state.
A federal court ruled against her, and in June of 2009, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, ruling against Busch 2-1.
Judge Anthony Sirica observed, “In this case, the audience is involuntary and very young. Parents of public school kindergarten students may reasonably expect their children will not become captive audiences to an adult’s reading of religious texts.”
Busch had claimed that the school was hostile to her evangelical Christian beliefs. But the appeals court disagreed, noting that Wesley’s poster, containing religious artwork, was displayed in the classroom and that religious holidays were discussed as part of the curriculum.
Americans United’s Legal Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Busch v. Marple Newtown School District case, siding with the school. In the brief, AU argued that the school would have violated church-state separation if it had allowed Busch to read the Bible to a kindergarten class.
AU also asserted that public school officials must have the discretion to determine what goes on inside the classroom.