Court allows school to teach Jewish Bible

The case is important because church-state watchdogs say the Christian Coalition has been looking to Lee County as a test case in its nationwide effort to bring religion into the public schools.

In the case, seven parents, clergy and other community members — including the president of the local Jewish federation — had filed suit to block the Bible curriculum, claiming that it teaches the Bible as historical fact and indoctrinates students to Christianity.

The two-part proposed course would have covered both the Jewish and Christian Bibles, but it was the slant of the Christian version that mainly troubled the local residents.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich said the school board could implement the course based on the Jewish Bible because it was "ostensibly designed to teach history and not religion," thereby meeting the requirement that the course had a secular purpose.

But she issued an injunction against the use of the Christian Bible curriculum, ruling that the court "finds it difficult to conceive how the account of the resurrection or of miracles could be taught as secular history."

Three of the five members on the Lee County school board are said to have close ties to the conservative Christian lobby.

The American Civil Liberties Union and People For the American Way, two watchdog groups backing the plaintiffs, welcomed the injunction against the Christian Bible curriculum.

In criticizing the efforts to incorporate the Christian Bible, Lisa Versaci, Florida state director of People For the American Way, said, "We see this as a kind of stealth curriculum that quite nicely fits into the broad agenda of the religious right in the public schools, which is to begin by first getting your candidates elected" to school boards, "and then start in with a Bible curriculum and prayer in schools."

Versaci said the watchdog groups intend to closely monitor and videotape the Jewish Bible class, which began in late January, to make sure it does not cross the line.

On the other side, the court decision was hailed by the American Center for Law and Justice, the Virginia-based group created by the Christian Coalition leader, the Rev. Pat Robertson. The group, which had been defending the school board, said it was reviewing the injunction against the Christian Bible phase of the curriculum.