The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to hear a case in which a kindergarten student, under an assignment in which parents were invited to read their child’s favorite book, was denied permission to share a Bible story and asked to read a book about witches instead.
As WND reported, Donna Busch accepted an invitation to visit her son Wesley’s kindergarten classroom at Culbertson Elementary School in Newtown Square, Penn., to read a passage of Wesley’s favorite book to his classmates in Oct 2004. Wesley’s teacher had invited Busch because the boy was the featured student of “All About Me,” a school event to feature a particular student and emphasize that student’s personal characteristics, preferences and personality in classroom activities.
During the “All About Me” activity, a child’s parent may read aloud from the student’s favorite book. In this case, Wesley, a Christian, chose the Bible. His mother planned to read from Psalm 118.
When Donna Busch prepared to read from the Bible, Wesley’s teacher instructed her not to do so until Principal Thomas Cook could determine whether it would be acceptable to read the Bible in class.
According to the Rutherford Institute, the principal “informed Mrs. Busch that she could not read from the Bible in the classroom because it was against the law and that the reading would violate the ‘separation of church and state.'”
Then school administrators offered Wesley’s mother an opportunity to read from a book about witches, witchcraft and Halloween. She declined the invitation.
A 2005 decision in U.S. District Court sided with the school’s decision to ban the Bible reading. Officials with the Marple Newtown School District had defended their actions as reasonable, and the trial court judge agreed.
A Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision upheld the lower court’s ruling that the school officials’ decision did not violate the Busch family’s First Amendment rights.
The court held that “educators may appropriately restrict forms of expression in elementary school classrooms” even when speakers have been invited into the classroom.
Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman issued a strong dissent, noting 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.
The Rutherford Institute attorneys are now urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. They argue that the appellate court’s decision gives school administrators too much discretion to discriminate against expression on the basis of its religious nature in violation of the First Amendment.