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Out with the new, in with the old, says court in Fla. bible class case.

In a mixed verdict for church-state separationisis, a federal district court has allowed an Old Testament class to begin in a Florida public school, but blocked a proposed New Testament class.

On Jan. 20 U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich refused to issue a preliminary injunction blocking an Old Testament class in Lee County high schools because she found it sufficiently secular to pass constitutional muster. However, a New Testament class promoted by a Religious Right group was too religious, the judge continued, and must be revised.

The Gibson v. Lee County School Board decision was a partial victory for a group of parents and taxpayers who oppose the Bible-as-history classes touted by the Religious Right-dominated county school board.

Addressing the locally developed Old Testament class, Kovachevich held that "the adoption of a curriculum ostensibly designed to teach history and not religion meets the secular purpose requirement." However, she also ruled that opponents of the class may videotape the class to ensure that it meets constitutional standards.

On the other hand, the judge could not accept the proposed New Testament class, which was prepared by the National Council oil Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a Religious Right advocacy group based in Greensboro, N.C.

Citing federal court precedents, Kovachevich said she "finds it difficult to conceive how the account of tile resurrection [of Jesus] or of miracles could be taught as secular history." She criticized the school board majority for ignoring its own attorneys' advice on the issue.

"It is an abuse of public trust when elected officials ignore established legal standards," Kovachevich held.

The Bible battle in Lee County is almost certain to continue. In a recent letter to its allies, the Florida branch of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition called for on-going support for the board majority.

"If we disappear now, thinking we've done our part to get a Bible history elective in the schools, and the pro-family Lee County school board members lose in the next election," wrote Coalition Executive Director John Dowless, "the 'blood' will be on our hands! . . . Opponents of the Bible and the press are working in tandem to bring down the three men who stuck their political necks on the line and voted the Bible back into Lee schools. Now we must come to their defense."

Dowless urged supporters to sign petitions supporting the Bible class and to work to get similar classes in as many Florida school districts as possible. "Because the best defense is a good offense," observed Dowless," we must get the Bible elective course in as many school districts as possible - that way, opponents of the Bible will have too many battles to fight."

Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice is assisting with the legal defense for the Lee County school board majority.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said AU will continue to monitor the developments in Lee County and will take any necessary actions to ensure that church-state separation is fully observed.
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Title Annotation:US District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich allows the holding of an Old Testament class in the Gibson V. Lee County School, Florida, but banned a New Testament class
Publication:Church & State
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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