PRINCETON, W.Va. — A federal lawsuit aimed at the former Bible in Schools program in Mercer County will return to U.S. District Court after the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to certify an appeal case for oral arguments.
Federal Judge David Faber previously dismissed the case filed by resident Elizabeth Deal because the Mercer County School Board eliminated the Bible program. Faber ruled Deal no longer had standing in the case. The 4th Circuit overturned Faber’s decision and sent the case back. The High Court decided not to take up an appeal filed by the school board’s attorneys of the 4th Circuit’s ruling.
Longtime Mercer County BOE member Greg Prudich said the local board just wants to move on.
“We don’t need to be spending taxpayer dollars on the continued pursuit of the case. It’s serves no purpose anymore. The program is gone,” Prudich said.
The Bible in Schools program had been in Mercer County schools for 75 years. The voluntary class were funded community donations and overseen by the school system. It was in Mercer County elementary and middle schools. The Deal case wants the court to make sure the program doesn’t return and is seeking permanent injunction.
“That’s their argument—that we’re going to restart it as soon as the case is dismissed. Of course that’s not our intention at all,” Prudich said. “The program was ended pursuant to the advice of counsel and because of the issues associated with the program as far as the legal system goes.”
The school board is concerned granting Deal standing in the case could make the board liable for damages.
Prudich said he hopes Faber will deal with the case quickly so the school board can put the issue behind it.
“We hope that the judge will resolve it, favorably toward us obviously and that we can wrap this up. The big problem is we continue to spend taxpayers’ dollars on an issue that’s resolved,” Prudich said.
The Mercer BOE moved to suspend the program after Deal filed her lawsuit in 2017. The lawsuit claims the Bible program was like a Sunday School class and unconstitutional. Deal moved her child to another county to attend school.
The 4th Circuit issued an opinion overturning Faber’s dismissal of the case not long after the case was submitted last March.
Mercer County still offers a Bible class in its high schools focused on the Bible’s literacy and history aspects. Prudich said it’s a vetted program nationwide and the school board is comfortable with it.