Sunday, February 13, 2005

Public School Students Studying Bible In Virginia

The Washington Times reports that students attending public schools in Staunton, (population: 23,800) Virginia have the opportunity to participate in an optional Bible study program that takes place during school time at several nearby Churches. First, second, and third-grade students that attend all four of Staunton's elementary schools participate.

The lessons last for one-half hour, and parents may "opt out" if they do not wish their children to take part. The lessons themselves are taught by a local religious group, Weekday Religious Education Association.

When Heather and Logan Ward moved to the area from New York four years ago, they were looking for a "simpler life." This past fall, as their son entered Kindergarten, they were shocked to learn of the Bible study program, which had been a tradition in Staunton (and other nearby rural Virginia communities) since 1929.

The Wards sparked a controversy when they asked the school board to eliminate or modify the program. The Wards say that students who opt out of the lessons are stigmatized and have little or nothing to do because teachers aren't allowed to introduce any new material while their classmates are at Bible classes.

Some 400 concerned people attended a very contentious school board meeting in December to discuss the matter. Many defenders of the Bible study program say that the controversy is being fueled by newcomers to the area. However, some native residents are against the classes because they view it as an infringement on the Constitutionally mandated separation between Church and State.

The school board will be meeting in order to decide the issue this Monday.

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