A federal appeals court has ruled that a Bible course taught in some Tennessee public schools violates church-state separation.
On June 7, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Bible Education Ministry (BEM) program used in Rhea County elementary schools violates the First Amendment. The BEM classes took place for 30 minutes, once a week, during the school day.
Since at least 1999, the Rhea County School Board has permitted the courses to be taught by students from nearby Bryan College, a private Christian college named in honor of William Jennings Bryan, the late 19th-century moralist politician who led a fundamentalist movement to prevent teaching of evolution in the public schools.
The 6th Circuit in Doe v. Porter rejected Rhea County's argument that the BEM courses had a secular purpose – to teach character development, as required of all the state\'s public schools. The court cited BEM lesson plans that showed "an intention to teach the Bible as literal truth, and to draw from its narratives certain theological propositions."
For example, the 6th Circuit cited a fall 2000 lesson plan in which the objective was to "reinforce how much God loves them [the students]; God wants to be their friend; You can be personal with God."
In mid-June, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that it is unlikely that Rhea County school officials will appeal the 6th Circuit's ruling.