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Eye On Boise

Idaho charter school loses federal appeal over Bible teaching

A now-defunct Idaho charter that sued the state because it wanted to use the Bible and other religious texts in the classroom has lost an appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The appellate court rejected the argument from Nampa Classical Academy founders that the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment gives them the right to use religious texts in their state-funded classrooms.

The Idaho Constitution out-and-out bans state funding for religious instruction in Article 9, Section 5, and in Article 9, Section 6, states, "No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools," and adds, "No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article." That's why the Idaho Charter School Commission's deputy attorney general concluded in 2009 that the state constitution "expressly" limits use of religious texts. Click below for a full report from Associated Press reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho charter school loses 9th circuit appeal
By JESSIE L. BONNER,Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of an Idaho charter school's lawsuit against state officials who barred use of the Bible and other religious texts as a teaching tool in the classroom.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the previous ruling against the now-defunct Nampa Classical Academy, in a decision earlier this week. The Idaho Public Charter School Commission closed the academy last year citing troubled finances.

The founders of the charter school tangled with Idaho officials over the use of the Bible and other religious texts shortly after opening in August 2009 with more than 500 students in southwestern Idaho. The academy filed a federal lawsuit against Idaho officials in September 2009.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge dismissed that lawsuit, determining the ban did not violate the school's rights. The academy challenged that ruling in the 9th circuit, which issued a decision against the charter school on Monday.

The appeals court found that Lodge erred in concluding that Nampa Classical Academy founder Isaac Moffett lacked capacity to sue the state. But it rejected Moffett's argument that the First Amendment gave the charter school the right to use religious texts in the classroom.

The speech clause in the First Amendment does not "give Idaho charter school teachers, Idaho charter school students, or the parents of Idaho charter school students a right to have primary religious texts included as part of the school curriculum," the appeals court said.

The U.S. Supreme Court banned ceremonial school Bible readings in a 1963 ruling but said "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities" so long as material is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education." Public schools across the country have traditionally avoided Bible courses — and the potential controversy that surrounds them — but hundreds do offer voluntary classes to students.

A deputy attorney general who serves as counsel to the Idaho charter school commission concluded in 2009 that the state constitution "expressly" limits use of religious texts. The commission, which was created in 2004 to give charter schools an alternative route to approval besides the local school board, adopted that opinion and told Nampa Classical Academy it couldn't use these texts.

The academy argued that the practice goes unchecked elsewhere in Idaho.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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