Challenge to school credit for Bible study in SC refused

lynne.shackleford@shj.comNovember 14, 2012 

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal on released time for religious education, effectively ending a three-year legal battle between Spartanburg School District 7 and parents and a former student of the district.

Two District 7 parents, Robert Moss and Ellen Tillett, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation brought the lawsuit after the district allowed students to receive academic credit for off-campus religious instruction through Spartanburg County Bible Education in School Time (SCBEST). Melissa Moss, Robert Moss's daughter, joined the suit as a plaintiff after graduating high school.

The plaintiffs claimed the district was endorsing religion, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The district, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and local counsel, Lyles, Darr and Clark, has maintained that its policy was based on state law that allows elective credits for off-campus religious time instruction as long as students are evaluated using secular criteria.

"We were awfully confident after the first (court) ruling, so it was an affirmation of what we already knew, and that is we were operating within district policy and state law," said District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker. "This has been going on for some time, so it feels good because this is the end of the lawsuit."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of Freedom from Religion Foundation, said it was a "pity" the U.S. Supreme Court would not hear the case since the credits are a "sham."

"The only other relief we have is for the South Carolina legislature to intervene," Gaylor said, adding that a state intervention is unlikely.

Gaylor said when the complaint was first brought to the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, she was shocked that students were able to receive academic credit for the religion classes that are taught at a church by SCBEST. Credit for the course was transferred to Spartanburg High School from a Spartanburg private school. The ramifications of this case, Gaylor said, will be widespread.

"What's next, credits for attending Sunday School?" she asked. "This was an unwise decision and one that we thought the Supreme Court would be particularly interested in, but it's a sham that this is still allowed to happen."

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