Idaho Victory!: Federal Appeals Court Rejects Bible-Based Charter School Lawsuit

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) lost another battle this week in its ongoing crusade to bring religion into public schools.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Idaho Public Charter School Commission acted constitutionally when it ordered the Nampa Classical Academy not to base its curriculum on the Bible or any other religious texts.

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.

Article IX, Section 9 of the Idaho constitution is abundantly clear on this point.

It reads 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, nor shall any teacher or any district receive any of the public school moneys in which the schools have not been taught in accordance with the provisions of this article.”

Academy teachers and school officials, assisted by the ADF, an aggressive 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 (appointed by George H.W. Bush) ruled in May 2010 that Academy officials must comply with the Commission’s mandate. And, now, the 9th Circuit has affirmed 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 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. 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.”

That’s exactly as it should be. As government actors, what school officials do and say on school time equates to government speech. And Idaho education officials are correct to insist that public school teachers refrain from teaching religion.

It’s obvious to me that this lawsuit was never really about free speech or equal protection anyway. This was just a ploy to turn a public charter school into a taxpayer-funded Christian school.

Academy founder Isaac Moffett made it clear in the past that he wanted a school with a right-wing religious bent. He denounced public schools for their so-called atheistic and secular ideas and said that he would like his school to be modeled after Hillsdale Academy, a private Christian prep school in Michigan

Of course, ADF officials would like to see that happen, too.

The appeals court didn’t buy the ADF’s arguments, and that’s a good thing.

I haven’t seen a response from the ADF yet about its latest loss, but here’s hoping this decision settles the matter once and for all.