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Supporters urge Mercer BOE to keep Bible in the Schools

By GREG JORDAN

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON, W.Va. — Citing history and preaching passionately, supporters of Mercer County’s Bible in the Schools program urged the Mercer County Board of Education to reconsider Tuesday its recent decision to suspend the program for a year.

Speakers signed up to address the board during its June meeting at the Mercer County Technical Education Center. In late May, the board suspended the program until next year to provide time for reviewing an optional class for elementary and middle school students. The board approved a secondary elective for high school students using the “The Bible and Its Influence.” This course will be offered next year. The school system also hopes to offer the elective in middle schools this next school year, Superintendent Dr. Deborah Akers said.

People who signed up to speak on the program’s behalf asked the board to keep it in elementary schools.

Melissa Thomas of Rock told the board that the Bible is an essential part of education.

“An atheist and apostate, John Loftus, a former Christian minister, said in his debate with Randall  Rauser, an associate professor of historical theology, that, ‘ since there is no God who placed us on this world, we must create meaning and purpose ourselves,’” she said. “Consequently, today, we hear things like, ‘If it feels good, do it’ and ‘the truth is what each individual wants it to be.’ Therefore, we have lawless, God hating individuals who are creating chaos in the world with this new learned way of life taught by atheists.”

When asked outside the meeting why having Bible in the Schools was important when Mercer County has numerous churches, Thomas said there are many children who cannot get to Sunday school classes.

“Well, because there is a huge group of kids whose parents are not going to take them to church in this day and time,” she stated. “Atheism is growing. To me, you can’t get past the basics in the Bible. Thou Shall Not Kill means the same to all denominations. Drug addiction has grown tremendously, and there are children who are barely getting enough to eat.”

Bruce Barilla of Bluefield, who represented the Patriotic Revival Seminar, said that in his opinion, whether the program is permissible is “simply decided by whether or not it is constitutional and not by personal prejudices or immature attitudes.”

“The First Amendment does not allow the U.S. Congress to establish a national church such as the Church of England by law established, ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion; nor prohibit Mercer County Schools from having a voluntary Bible elective paid from private funds ‘or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’; thus it is a state issue,” Barilla said.

The Constitution of West Virginia guarantees religious freedom to all citizens, he stated.

“The board of education not only has a right to offer the Bible in the Schools program, but a responsibility according to the Northwest Ordinance which outlines the requirements for statehood,” Barilla said. “Article III states that, ‘Religion (Christianity), morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Akers said that Mercer County school system has had a Bible curriculum, in some form, since 1939.

“It might be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization,” Akers said. “It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, consistent with the First Amendment.”

“We are currently reviewing our curriculum for that purpose and thank you for your comments,” she said. “In addition to the guidelines provided by the West Virginia Attorney General, we are also reviewing guidelines that are endorsed by the Anti-Defamation League, American Federation of Teachers, and the National Bible Association to determine if there are any opportunities to improve our curriculum.”

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