"Christian Book Shop seven miles -- Prepare to Meet God" reads a road sign on the way into this east Tennessee town.

This is the Bible Belt, where such signs proliferate. Opposite the U.S. District Court is a church notice board advocating hard work: "God calls a busy person, Satan the idle."

The court has been hard at work this week on a case that has been compared to the 1925 "monkey trial" in which Tennessee schoolteacher John T. Scopes was found guilty of teaching the theory of evolution.

In the present trial, which the news media have labeled "Scopes II," seven Christian fundamentalist families contend that Hawkins County's textbooks are anti-Christian, and they want the school board to provide an alternative set. The board, saying this would lead to chaos in curriculum and staffing, has refused.

On behalf of the plaintiffs, Mel Gabler, a controversial Texan who describes himself as a textbook reviewer, told the court today that some textbooks are "indoctrinating" children with a philosophy of humanism that is alien to mainstream America

Earlier in the week, Paul Vitz, a professor of psychology at New York University who also appeared on behalf of the plaintiffs, said he studied the books and counted about 600 stories, poems, articles and plays but found only five references to God. Magicians and witches appear more frequently than God, he said.

The Judeo-Christian heritage so important to the United States has been largely ignored in the textbooks, he said. He likened conservative Biblical Protestants to American blacks who until recently found their heritage ignored in textbooks.

But Anthony T. Podesta, president of People for the American Way, the liberal organization that is backing the school board, said in an interview that while he accepts Vitz's findings, he disputes Vitz's conclusions. Religion is being left out not because of a humanist bias but because publishers are afraid of controversy, he said.

The books in dispute are the widely used "Holt Basic Readings" for grades one through eight, published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Vicki Frost, one of the parents objecting to the books, told the court the Holt series was polluted.

The parents object to stories they say are about feminism, the occult, magic, pacifism, one-world government, other religions, secular humanism and rebellion by children against their parents.

Among hundreds of writings they cite are the witches' chant from Shakespeare's "Macbeth," Lewis Carroll's "Mad Hatter's Tea Party," Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz" and "Rumpelstiltskin" by the Brothers Grimm.

Jane Whittaker testified that when her son read Holt books his personality changed and he became rebellious. He realized this and asked his parents to pray with him, she said.

Frost said that before she removed the family television set she forbade her children to watch "Sesame Street" because it offended her beliefs when one character called another a fool.

The "monkey trial" was held 150 miles away at Dayton, Tenn. That July, like this one, was a scorcher, and defense lawyer Clarence Darrow was photographed in his shirtsleeves. Here, air conditioning keeps the courtroom cool.

Timothy Dyk of the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, who is representing the school board, said in an interview: "Scopes II is not an inaccurate label. If these people succeed, there will be textbook censorship, not direct but indirect."

Dyk said his expenses are being paid by People for the American Way but he is donating his professional services.

The parents are represented by Michael Farris, a Washington attorney and Christian fundamentalist activist who has been retained by the conservative Concerned Women for America. He said: "The ultimate issue is can a school district, in the name of promoting their own world view, force people to violate their religious beliefs as the price of obtaining a public education?"