Saturday, March 25, 2006

Judge Grants Injunction Allowing Child's Recess Bible Reading and Sharing

Judge Grants Injunction Allowing Child's Recess Bible Reading and Sharing

By Jim Brown and Jenni Parker March 24, 2006

(AgapePress) - A federal judge has ordered an elementary school in Knoxville, Tennessee, to stop prohibiting a fifth-grade student from reading his Bible with a friend during recess.

Luke Whitson and his parents had filed a motion for preliminary injunction against Knox County School District officials for threatening to punish the fifth grader for reading his Bible during recess at Karns Elementary School. According to press reports, Knox County Schools officials had argued that Bible reading jeopardizes student safety. They also contended that recess is not "free time," and therefore school officials can prohibit Bible reading during that period of the day.

After trying unsuccessfully to resolve their dispute with the school over the unconstitutional policy through legal counsel, the Whitsons, represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), filed suit. They contended that school officials, acting "under the authority and weight of the government" were denying a ten-year-old student's rights by refusing to allow him "merely to read his Bible and discuss passages found therein with a friend during recess time at school."

The case, Whitson v. Knox County Board of Education, was filed June 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville. The request for injunctive relief for Luke Whitson and his family argued that the protection of the fifth grader's "fundamental constitutional rights is clearly in the best interest of the public and will cause no harm to the school's ability to fulfill its education mission."

The court agreed with the arguments on behalf of Luke Whitson and his parents. Now, as part of a settlement ordered by U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips, the boy is free to bring his Bible to school, read it on the playground, and discuss it with friends from now until the end of the school year.

The Whitson's lead attorney, Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Nate Kellum, notes that while Judge Phillips strongly admonished the Knoxville school system, the only question he had for the family was why the dispute had not already been settled.

"He said when he read the pleadings, when he read the complaint, when he read the answer, when he saw the evidence, he could not see why the school was still contesting the matter," Kellum notes.

"And then he asked us why the case had not been settled," the lawyer continues, "and we told him, 'Well, because the school was unwilling to do that.' And so, as far as dressing down, the only dressing down that we noticed was that addressed to the other side."

Family's Fight for Fifth Grader's Rights Not Over Yet But although pleased with the settlement, Kellum says the dispute between the Whitsons and the school district is far from over. The district court, he explains, was asked to make sure Luke was not prevented from exercising his First Amendment rights while the case continues, and the preliminary injunction has provided this; however, a final legal resolution of the matter is still pending.

Also, there is the matter of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the fifth grader. "It's unbelievable really, when you think about it," the ADF spokesman says. "What happened is the principal brought a slander suit against a 10-year-old child for three million dollars, and that's certainly one of the issues as yet to be cleared up."

Kellum says the family's legal representatives are "in discussions with the school" about the principal's lawsuit, "and our hope and our prayer is that [the matter of the slander allegation] along with other issues will be resolved as well."

In the meantime, the attorney notes, the Knox County school officials' apparent "fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution" has been addressed for now and "Luke Whitson should not be prevented from exercising his First Amendment right to read his Bible with friends during recess."

Kellum says the Constitution of the United States, far from prohibiting Bibles during recess, actually prohibits the wholesale banning of Bibles during recess.

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