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Rowan-Salisbury Bible classes under fire, school board to meet Thursday

The constitutionality of Bible classes taught at several Rowan-Salisbury elementary schools has been challenged, and the school board has called a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the issue.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, an organization promoting the separation of church and state, sent a four-page letter written by Attorney Patrick Elliott to Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody Sept. 24, saying the district’s elementary school Bible classes are “flagrantly unconstitutional.”
The letter goes on to say, “While a bona fide history or literature course may teach critically and objectively about the bible to more mature students, the course content here constitutes illegal religious instruction and is geared toward the District’s youngest, most impressionable students. …
“We understand there are other bible classes in district middle and high schools,” the letter also said. “Given the blatantly unconstitutional nature of the elementary classes, these classes are also suspect.”
According to Elliot, a “local complainant” approached the foundation about the classes.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation reports there are weekly 45-minute Bible classes taught at Cleveland, Woodleaf and Mount Ulla elementary schools, where the Bible is presented as “literal fact,” seven-day creation is taught, examples of “God’s plan” are given and “many other troubling teachings” are presented.
The foundation also claims local churches fund the classes through religious nonprofit groups.
When the Post requested a full list of schools and grades that are taught Bible and whether or not those classes are electives, Rowan-Salisbury Public Information Officer Rita Foil said the data would be presented at Thursday’s meeting.
Dr. Richard Miller, board chairman, said the meeting was specifically called to receive community input and counsel from the district’s lawyers.
“We’ll have a time for the community to give any input they want,” he added.
Attendees can sign up for public comment at the meeting. They will be allowed to speak for three minutes.
“Our legal counsel has been collecting information and researching options,” Moody said in an email. “I plan to listen carefully on Thursday to their findings before forming any recommendations.”
Miller said the board will probably hold a closed session to discuss the personnel issues and attorney-client privilege that factor into the matter.
“I won’t close the door on the fact that some decision may be made Thursday,” he said.
Elliot said the called meeting is “a good thing, but it’s also concerning,” adding that many people are “passionate about religious issues,” but that doesn’t mean the classes “are right or constitutional.”
Freedom from Religion’s course of action will “depend on how the board handles it,” Elliot said.
“We want to see what action is taken,” he said, adding that the board’s actions will determine whether the issue is resolved or if the foundation decides to “proceed with litigation.”
“It makes no difference if some parents would like the Rowan-Salisbury School System to teach the bible as fact to its students,” the letter stated. “The law is clear: the teaching of religious doctrine is prohibited in public schools under the constitution.”
The board will meet Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the district’s Long Street administrative offices, 110 S. Long St. in East Spencer.

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