Atheist Foundation: Dissolve Bible Study Groups In Ohio Public Schools

| by Nik Bonopartis
A Bible opened to the Book of Isaiah A Bible opened to the Book of Isaiah

A Wisconsin nontheist group wants school leaders in Ohio to "dissolve" Bible study groups that meet in public schools.

In a letter dated Feb. 5, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote to Steve Wigton, superintendent of the Lancaster City School District, asking him to investigate the Bible groups and shut them down if they're run by adults from a nearby church, as the foundation alleges.

"[It] is a fundamental principle of the Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer, or promote religion," attorney Ryan Jayne wrote on behalf of the foundation.

"Even though the Equal Access Act (EAA) dictates that public secondary schools may not discriminate against student organizations based on their religious, political, philosophical or or other beliefs, ... it is illegal for outside adults to regularly participate in, organize, or lead student religious organizations," Jayne added.

The letter goes on to mention several court cases as precedent, including a 2002 case in which the FFRF successfully challenged a Bible study program in a Tennessee school district that was run by adults.

Jayne said the FFRF takes issue with the alleged fact that the Bible groups are run by "volunteers or community youth pastors" from Faith Memorial Church in Lancaster. Lancaster is a city of about 40,000 people 30 miles southeast of Columbus.

A page on the church's website said church leaders organized the programs in eight local schools, including four high schools. That page was taken down by the church on Feb. 3.

A copy of the page archived by the FFRF shows schedules for the Bible study groups, categorized by school, grade level, and classroom number. The church tells students participating in lunchtime groups to bring their lunches to the meetings, while donuts are provided to kids who attend an early-morning study group at one of Lancaster's middle schools.

The website doesn't say if the groups were founded by pastors or students, only that the church helps organize them, which is why Jayne asked the district's superintendent for an investigation.

If the programs are dissolved, "students would be free to re-establish the clubs, on their own initiative, in the future," Jayne wrote.

Sources: Freedom From Religion Foundation [2] / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Ryk Neethling/Flickr

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