‘A basic background in the Bible is essential to fully appreciate western culture and current events.’

Mildred Clark has spent the last 37 years teaching school. For 35 of those years she taught the Bible in public schools. But this year Clark is out of work. The Bible course she was teaching has been declared unconstitutional.

The veteran school teacher was one of three women who taught the Bible in Bristol, a town that straddles the Virginia-Tennessee border. The classes were offered once a week to fourth- and fifth-grade students in all of the town’s public elementary schools. But 42 years after the Bible classes were begun, U.S. District Court Judge Jackson Kiser ruled that they violated the First Amendment.

The Bible program was originated by a private group in 1941. The course was taught on both sides of the state line, even though separate school boards govern Bristol public schools in Virginia and Tennessee. Since its inception, the course’s teachers were paid by funds contributed by as many as 85 local churches.

Parents had to sign enrollment cards before their children could attend the class, and those not enrolled took study hall or a physical education class instead. Last year only 18 of Bristol, Virginia’s, 589 fourth- and fifth-grade students elected not to take the Bible class.

The course was challenged in court by the parents of Kathleen Crockett, a fifth-grade student when the suit was filed last February. With help from the Virginia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, Sam and Sally Crockett asked Judge Kiser to declare the Bible course unconstitutional. The Crocketts, members of the State Street United Methodist Church in Bristol, disagreed with the way the Bible was being taught. They also felt ...

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