Idaho Charter School Loses Appeal On Religious Texts

An Idaho charter school has no constitutional right to base its curriculum on the Bible or other religious texts, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 15 that the Idaho Public Charter School Commission acted legally when it ordered the Nampa Classical Academy not to base its curriculum on sectarian books and materials.

In August 2009, the commission told academy officials that using religious literature as primary teaching materials violates the state constitution and would not be permitted. The commission pointed to Article IX, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution, which states in part, “No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools…. No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article….”

Academy officials, assisted by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal group, challenged the commission’s decision, arguing that it violated their free speech and equal protection rights.

A U.S. district court judge ruled in May 2010 that academy officials must comply with the commission’s mandate. The 9th Circuit’s ruling affirms that decision in Nampa Classical Academy v. Goesling, holding that neither the school’s teachers nor school officials have the “right” to teach religion in a publicly funded school.

“The First Amendment’s speech clause does not…give Idaho charter school teachers, Idaho charter school students, or the parents of Idaho charter school students a right to have primary religious texts included as part of the school curriculum,” the appeals court said.

The appellate panel also suggested that the commission was on the right track when it barred the academy’s proposed use of the Bible and other scriptures. The First Amendment “generally prohibits governmental promotion of religion,” the court said, and it does not bar governmental efforts to “ensure that public entities, or private parties receiving government funds, use public money for secular purposes.”

In early September, the ADF filed an appeal, asking the entire 9th Circuit panel to review the ruling.