Aleck Lee Bledsoe, the 37-year-old fundamentalist Baptist preacher who says interracial dating and marriage are forbidden by the Bible, walked out of U.S. court in Alexandria yesterday praising the Lord and his lawyers.
"I think it was good," said a beaming Bledsoe. "I think it was real good."
He was referring to final arguments yesterday in a $70,000 lawsuit filed against him and his Marumsco Christian School by the father of a 14-year-old girl who was expelled for a-legedly dating a black male classmate.
The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, will be decided by U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis, who heard two hours of verbal sparring on the issue of religious freedome versus civil rights yesterday. Lewis did not say when he will rule.
Early yesterday morning, Bledsoe -- a short, stocky man with a crewcut and a pin-stripe suit -- led a six-man prayer meeting in one of the courthouse's second floor witness rooms.
Later as the controversial case got under way, the packed courtroom took on the air of an old-fashioned revival meeting.
Pounding the lecturn and bobbing up and down, Bledsoe's attorney, Theodore H. Amshoff Jr., a Louisville, Ky., Specialist in religious cases, told Lewis, "A church cannot be true to its religious conviction if forced to condone in conduct what it forbids by doctrine."
The judge appeared to agree. He angrily attacked ACLU lawyer Victor Glasberg for characterizing Bledsoe's opposition to interracial dating and marriage as a "phony belief." "They've got a right to believe anything they want," the judge told Glasberg.
What ACLU lawyers said began as an innocent friendship between two teen-agers at Bledsoe's Prince William County school last year has mushroomed into a constitutional battle that lawyers on both sides predict will wind up before the Supreme Court.
Melissa Fiedler, 14, was expelled from the Woodbridge, Va., school on Jan. 8 after Bledsoe told her not to speak with Rufus Bostic III, a black classmate. Bledsoe testified that Fiedler and Bostic were having a "romantic relationship." Fiedler testified that the two were merely friends.
When Raymond Fiedler, the girl's father, contacted the NAACP and threatened a lawsuit, Bledsoe also expelled Melissa's sister, 11-year-old Charlotte, from the school.
These expulsions, Glasberg argued yesterday resulted from Bledsoe's "social prejudice masquerading as religion."
Bledsoe's attorney said the Fiedler sisters were expelled for their "failure to abide by the church's tenets," which forbids interracial "romantic" relationships and for Raymond Fiedler's "failure to accept discipline" by threatening to sue.
Questioning the validity of such church tenets, Glasberg noted that the Supreme Court had ruled that polygamy -- a belief of the Mormon Church -- is unlawful.
"There are beliefs and there are beliefs," Glasberg said angrily. "What if I brought in latter day Aztec Indians who sacrifice their neighbors to the Sun God? Your honor wouldn't allow it!"
Judge Lewis's response could not be heard over the loud outburst of laughter in the courtroom.
"I'm not saying that his [Bledsoe's] religious beliefs are correct," Judge Lewis said from the bench. "But this is a private, religious school. Private clubs have a right to discriminate."
Referring to Bledsoe's "fundamental beliefs" in opposing interracial dating and marriage, Judge Lewis told the courtroom: "If you don't believe it, you don't stay in school. Right or wrong."
Glasberg vehemently argued that, on the facts of the case, Bledsoe's religious beliefs did not give him the right to violate Melissa Fiedler's own Constitutional rights.
Lewis said he would decide the case on what he considers to be "the bottom line:" whether or not the Marumsco "Religious organization was legally permitted to expel these children . . . because the parents no longer subscribed" to the religious belief opposing interracial dating and marriage.
"That is the ultimate question as I see it," said Lewis before adjourning the trial.
If Lewis decides in favor ot the Fiedler's, a hearing will be held to determine what damages if any the family should receive. The family is asking for reinstatement of the two girls to the Marumsco Christian School and $70,000 in damages.
Although Bledsoe, his church and the school all filed for bankruptcy Monday, the preacher said outside the courtroom he still plans to open the school this fall.
When asked if there were any other religious tenets apart from interracial dating adhered to by his Baptist church, Bledsoe, a graduate of conservative Bob Jones University, said alcohol and tobacco also were forbidden. "We're also against the Equal Rights Amendment," he said, quoting passages from the Bible to support his position.