Supreme Court Rejects Appeal in Tennessee Textbook Case

The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal from seven fundamentalist Christian families who object to the contents of the reading textbooks used by a Tennessee elementary school their children attend.

By not taking the case, the high court automatically upholds a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the children must use the books taught in the school. The appeals court said the parents had the option of withdrawing the children from the school and enrolling them in a private school or teaching them at home.

The case, Mozert vs. Hawkins County Public Schools, has been well publicized and called by some Scopes II, after the famous Tennessee case in the 1920s over the teaching of evolution in the schools.

In the current case, the parents objected to a reading series published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston that they said contained passages that conflicted with their religious beliefs.

AGAINST ANNE FRANK DIARY

The passages were from books that ranged from the “Wizard of Oz” to “The Diary of Anne Frank.” In the “Diary,” the parents objected to a passage that expressed the view that many religions are equally acceptable.

The U.S. District Court for Eastern Tennessee partially upheld the parents’ claim that they were being denied their free exercise of religion, ruling that the children could be excused from class when the objectionable text was being taught.

But it rejected a request by the parents that separate classes for their children be set up or that the school district pay tuition for their children to attend Christian schools.

When the board of education appealed, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision, arguing that the children must use the books provided as long as they are in the public schools.

ADL WELCOMES DECISION

The decision was welcomed by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, which had filed a brief in support of the school board before the appeals court.

“We feel that the court has acted to protect the democratic and pluralistic nature of the public schools,” said Ruti Teitel, assistant director of ADL’s national legal affairs department.

A more ambivalent comment came from the American Jewish Congress which had not decided whether to file a brief in the case, according to Mark Pelavin, its acting Washington representative.

“To the extent that today’s decision does not permit de facto censorship, it is certainly something to be welcomed,” he said.

But Pelavin noted that AJCongress considered the case a “difficult and exceedingly close case” for the Jewish community.

The reason, Pelavin said, is that on occasions the Jewish community has sought to have children excused from parts of the public school curriculum. One such example, he said, is when Christmas carols are part of school holiday programs.

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