WASHINGTON -- The United States Supreme Court has announced its refusal to hear the case of a Pennsylvania mother who was forbidden from reading a passage from Psalms as part of an "All About Me" kindergarten classroom program intended to spotlight her son and his favorite book, the Bible. In challenging a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Rutherford Institute attorneys had argued that the appellate court's decision gives school officials too much discretion to discriminate against religious expression in violation of the First Amendment.
"By refusing to hear Mrs. Busch's case, the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed the kind of hostility toward religion that should never be found in an American public school," stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "If these acts of censorship and discrimination are allowed to continue, there will be absolutely no freedom for religious people in public schools in this country."
The case began in October 2004, when Donna Busch accepted an invitation to visit her son Wesley's kindergarten classroom at Culbertson Elementary School in Newtown Square, Penn., and read an excerpt of Wesley's favorite book to his classmates. Wesley's teacher had invited Mrs. Busch because Wesley was the featured student of "All About Me," a school program intended to feature a particular student during the week and emphasize that student's personal characteristics, preferences and personality in classroom activities.
One activity made available to featured students during "All About Me" is the opportunity to have the child's parent read aloud from his or her favorite book. Wesley, a Christian, had chosen the Bible as his favorite book, and Mrs. Busch planned to read an excerpt from Psalm 118. However, on the day of the reading, Wesley's teacher directed Mrs. Busch not to read the passage until the principal had determined if it could be read to the class. When Principal Thomas Cook was summoned, he informed Mrs. Busch that she could not read from the Bible in the classroom because it was against the law and the reading would violate the "separation of church and state." Mrs. Busch was then told to read from another book.
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In filing suit against the Marple Newtown school district in May 2005, Institute attorneys alleged that the reading incident was just one example of the school's efforts to suppress the right of Christians to freely express their religious beliefs. For example, although Mrs. Busch was not permitted to read from the Bible, another parent was allowed to read a book about Judaism, teach the class the dreidel game, and display a menorah in celebration of Hanukkah. In upholding the lower court's ruling that the school officials' decision did not violate the Busches' First Amendment rights, the court of appeals held that "educators may appropriately restrict forms of expression in elementary school classrooms" even when they have invited speakers into the classroom. However, Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman issued a vigorous dissent, pointing out that the reading of a passage from Psalms to Wesley's class was within the subject matter of the "All About Me" unit, which was to highlight things of interest and importance to Wesley, and the exclusion constituted viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment because it was based solely upon its religious character.