MIAMI, Fla (Apr. 17)
A Dade County Circuit Court judge ruled this weekend that daily reading of the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer in public schools do not violate the Florida or Federal Constitutions. At the same time Judge J. Fritz Gordon ruled that the public schools must excuse students from such Bible readings and recitations if they ask to be excused. The decision also ordered the schools to discontinue the presentation of Christmas and Faster plays and to stop showing religious movies.
The decision was handed down after five parents–three Jewish, one Unitarian and one agnostic–had asked the court for an injunction to force the Dade County Board of Public Instruction to discontinue the Bible readings, the prayer recitation and the observances of religious holidays. A 30-year-old Florida statute requires the Bible reading and prayer recitation. Attorneys for the parents said that they intend to appeal the decision.
Judge Gordon’s decision also ruled that religious symbolism may continue to be displayed and the schools may continue to hold baccalaureate programs. In his ruling, Judge Gordon wrote that he had based part of his decision on the finding that the daily Bible reading required by state law did not amount to religious instruction. “In almost every creed, religion or belief, the words of the Golden Rule are a way of life by which we should live if we are to exist peacefully. ” the judge said.
Referring to the compulsory daily Bible reading, the judge wrote that the law was being upheld because of a school board policy of excusing any student from the reading period at the student’s request. He ordered the school board, however, not to conduct after-school Bible courses, nor to permit holiday observances depicting the birth and crucifixion of Christ.
Rejecting the argument by the parents that children were placed under “psychological compulsion” to remain in class during the Bible reading, Judge Gordon wrote that the school officials handled requests to be excused from reading in a manner so that “no embarrassment was caused to the students. “