Florida school board votes to fight for Bible course

Thursday, February 19, 1998

A Florida county school board has decided to continue battling for its Bible curriculum that a federal judge found unconstitutional.

The Lee County School Board voted 4-1 Feb. 18 to appeal U.S. district court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich's decision that bars a New Testament-based Bible course from being taught in public schools.

Don Campbell, director of district operations for Lee County schools, said board member Katherine Boren was the sole dissenting vote. Campbell said that board members have opted not to speak with the media but have decided to allow him to speak on their behalf.

Boren “ultimately felt she could not support the recommendation to appeal,” Campbell said. “It was her opinion that the board has taken too much time on the curriculum and that a settlement should have been reached.”

After the school board adopted the Bible History I and Bible History II curriculum, seven Ft. Myers residents represented by local branches of the American Civil Liberties Union and the civil-rights organization People for the American Way, sued the school board in December.

The seven residents asked Kovachevich to stop the courses from being taught in the schools because they claimed the curriculum was intended to promote Christianity.

Kovachevich ruled in January that Bible History I, which centers on the Old Testament, could be taught because enough evidence was available to suggest that the board adopted the curriculum to teach history and not religion. The judge, however, did suggest the course be monitored by school officials to confirm that it is not being used to push Christianity on students. Bible History I is being taught at seven Lee County schools.

As for Bible History II, Kovachevich said the school board adopted the New Testament-based course to promote Christianity. Kovachevich's ruling criticized the school board for ignoring its attorney who had recommended that references to miracles and the resurrection be stricken from the course.

“Because of the high degree of public attention focused on the development of the curriculum, and because of the ongoing activities of the Curriculum committee, the Court finds it impossible to believe that the School Board did not know what it was doing when it voted to adopt the Bible History II curriculum on October 21, 1997,” Kovachvevich concluded.

David Cortman, associate counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm that is representing the school board, praised the school board's decision to continue its fight for Bible History II.

“The board's decision was the proper legal strategy to take because the 30-day deadline had arrived and it wanted to leave open the option to appeal while at the same time the board is free to look for a settlement with the plaintiffs,” Cortman said.

“It is our opinion that the New Testament curriculum is constitutional. The Bible happens to be one of the most important backdrops of the founding of our nation and references to the Bible are found in numerous artistic, literary and almost every other aspect of our culture.”

Cortman said that negotiations with the plaintiffs are “moving forward and there is a strong possibility of settlement.”

Lisa Versaci, director of the Florida chapter of People For the American Way, said the board's decision to fight for the New Testament curriculum, which was created by the North-Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum, was anticipated.

“The board's decision was not a surprise,” Versaci said. “It is our plan to stay in this fight because we want to set a precedent on this curriculum. We believe the curriculum teaches Christian theology and therefore is patently unconstitutional.”

Versaci added that talk of a settlement is “optimistic.”