Free Exercise Clause Not Violated by Textbooks Used in Public Schools

Federal court ruling addresses the issue of whether textbooks used in public schools, and that

Federal court ruling addresses the issue of whether textbooks used in public schools, and that are offensive to the religious beliefs of certain parents and students, can be banned on the ground they violate the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom.

A federal appeals court (by a vote of 2-1) reversed a lower federal court ruling that the Holt, Rinehart, and Winston basic reading series used in grades 1 through 8 violated the constitutional rights of fundamentalist Christian parents. The parents had argued that the reading series contained numerous passages that violated their religious beliefs. In particular, they cited passages dealing with evolution, feminism, role reversal, and occultism.

The court concluded that a requirement that a person be exposed to ideas he or she finds objectionable on religious grounds does not constitute an impermissable burden on the free exercise of that person's religion. Rather, "governmental compulsion either to do or refrain from doing an act forbidden or required by one's religion, or to affirm or disavow a belief forbidden or required by one's religion, is the evil prohibited by the Free Exercise Clause."

The court found no compulsion in the requirement that students read the Holt series, and therefore there had been no violation of the guaranty of religious freedom. No one was required to affirm or deny a religious belief or to engage in a practice forbidden by a religious belief. On the contrary, parents were free to send their children to religious schools or educate them at home.

The court observed that "were the free exercise clause violated whenever governmental activity is offensive to or at variance with sincerely held religious precepts, virtually no govermental program would be constitutional." Therefore, to establish a violation of the constitutional right of religious freedom, a person "must show that the challenged state action has a coercive effect that operates against the practice of his or her religion." Mozert v. Hawkins County Board of Education, 827 F.2d 1058 (6th Cir. 1987)

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