A rural Virginia county has agreed not to allow church-sponsored Bible classes on public school grounds, settling a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union claiming that the practice was unconstitutional.
The private Weekday Religious Education organization has offered Bible classes in buses or trailers parked on or near public school grounds during school hours since 1982, when the classes were forced out of the schools in another First Amendment challenge.
In an order entered Monday in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, the Shenandoah County School Board made no admission about the constitutionality of recent practices. Judge James H. Michael Jr. said last month that some of the classes appeared to violate the First Amendment provisions separating church and state.
The ACLU filed suit May 11 on behalf of an unidentified third-grade student at Woodstock's W.W. Robinson Elementary School and his mother.
They claimed that the classes violated the Constitution and that teachers had pressured the boy and others to join the voluntary classes and had harassed him when his parents refused.
Six days later, Michael issued a temporary restraining order against the school system.
Weekday Religious Education officials were not a party to the latest suit, but state coordinator Olive Clark said she expects full compliance in Shenandoah County and is "glad it was settled this way."
Under the agreement, the school system must prohibit Weekday teachers and officers from entering any public school classroom while children are present.
The school system also agrees to forbid its employees to take any role "in the recruitment, registration or encouragement of participation" in the program. Children allegedly have been offered candy and other rewards by Weekday teachers to return sign-up cards.
The suit sought $675,000 in damages. The amount agreed to is confidential under the terms of the agreement.
Weekday said it reaches 15,000 public school children in Virginia each week, making it the largest such organization in the nation.