A judge's decision that allows Bible classes in the public schools here if they are restructured may provide guidelines for such classes nationwide, a U.S. Department of Education official said.
The Reagan administration will want "to take a close look" at the ruling, said Gary Bauer, deputy undersecretary of planning and budget.
Bauer, in a telephone interview, said the ruling may help clarify the extent to which the Bible can be taught in classes across the country.
"We have cases across the country where school administrators have been intimidated about this issue," he said. "If the decision helps clarify the situation, we would certainly want to spread the word."
Meanwhile, the ruling by U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser has left both sides of the controversy claiming victory.
In Richmond yesterday, the Virginia wing of the American Civil Liberties Union, which joined with a Bristol City Council member and his wife in the lawsuit challenging the Bible classes, claimed they won an "unequivocal" victory in the case. They criticized defendants who insist they won the church-state lawsuit.
ACLU lobbyist Judy Goldberg said of Kiser's decision, "He gave us everything we asked for."
Kiser said the classes, taught for 42 years, violated the constitutional separation of church and state. But he also outlined ways the classes could continue, which prompted the defendants to claim victory because the court said the classes could continue under new guidelines.
Goldberg contended, however, that "Any resemblance between the judge's criteria and continuing the classes as they were over the last 42 years is clearly lacking."
Kiser gave eight guidelines he said Bristol can follow to keep the classes.
He said the school board must control the classes, which were supported by a private religious group. He also said the board must hire certified teachers, design a curriculum and provide other "reasonable" electives for students.
Any contributions to pay for the program must be on a "no-strings-attached" basis, he said.
Bristol Superintendent Royce Quarles said last weekend he thought the board would continue the classes.
Goldberg told a news conference the Bible could be taught objectively in school, although she added, "There are certain aspects of that we may question."
She and ALCU executive director Chan Kendrick said they feared Kiser's ruling would be misinterpreted and that it might be used to justify Bible classes in other Virginia localities.
"If they do, then we are prepared to proceed legally," said Kendrick.