Public Schools May Protect Kindergarten Students From Proselytism, Americans United Advises Court

Watchdog Group Urges Appeals Court To Reject Religious Right-Backed Lawsuit By Parent Who Wanted To Read Bible Verses To Students

A Pennsylvania public school was right to refuse to allow a woman to read Bible verses to a kindergarten class, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has advised a federal appeals court.

Americans United filed the friend-of-the-court brief in a case from Newtown Square, Pa. Donna K. Busch, whose son was a kindergarten student at Culbertson Elementary School in 2004, wanted to read a passage from the Book of Psalms during an exercise in which parents were invited to share a talent, game, craft or story with the class.

School officials refused to allow Busch to read from the Bible. Backed by the Rutherford Institute, a Religious Right legal group, Busch filed suit, alleging that her free speech and religious liberty rights had been violated.

Busch lost in federal court, and the Rutherford Institute is now appealing to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said the appeals court should reject Busch’s case.

“Parents do not have a constitutional right to preach to impressionable children in a public school,” Lynn said. “Schools can and should take steps to ensure that children of all faiths and none are welcome. If parents wish to read the Bible to their own children, they are free to do so at home.”

Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, pointed out that the passages Busch wanted to read, Psalm 118:1-4 and verse 14, are evangelistic in nature. During the litigation, an expert witness called Psalm 118 “a powerful tool for proselytizing by the Christian community.”

Americans United’s Oct. 2 brief in the Busch v. Marple Newtown School District case asserts that public school officials must have the right to determine what goes on inside the classroom.

“[B]y inviting the parents of the class to participate in a kindergarten social studies exercise by reading a story, the School did not remotely convert the kindergarten classroom into a soapbox (or pulpit) from which parents were free to express their views, whatever they may be,” observes the brief.

It goes on to say, “Nor did the School forego its right and duty to control the content of material presented to its kindergarten students to ensure that it is consistent with the purpose of the classroom program, appropriate for kindergarten-age students, respectful of the rights and religious beliefs of other students and their parents, and otherwise consistent with school policies. And Busch’s wish to express religious views does not trump the rights of kindergarten-age students to be free from the imposition upon them of school-sponsored religious expression, or the rights of their parents to guide their children’s religious and spiritual upbringing.”

The legal brief was drafted by attorneys Charles B. Wayne and Edward B. Schwartz of the law firm DLA Piper US LLP, along with Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.