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Maryland School Sued for Refusing to Let Girl Read Bible

  • Meghan Mulhern Correspondent
  • 2006 4 Oct
Maryland School Sued for Refusing to Let Girl Read Bible
( - A conservative civil liberties group has filed suit against a school in Greenbelt, Md., for violating the constitutional rights of a seventh-grader who was allegedly threatened with discipline for reading her Bible in school.

"This was a young Christian girl, who has been a Christian for less than a year, and so this is really important for her," said John W. Whitehead, president and founder of the Rutherford Institute, which represents Amber Mangum in the case.

"She is in a public school where there is no religious influence. So she eats her lunch, she's taking a break, she's reading her Bible, and this school official comes up to her and says she's going to be disciplined if she doesn't stop reading it," Whitehead added.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland against Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School. Eighth grade Vice Principal Jeannette Rainey and Principal Charoscar Coleman are among the defendants in the suit.

According to the student's mother, Maryanne Mangum, Amber was reading her Bible after finishing her lunch when Rainey gave her a "verbal warning" to put the Bible away.

Amber was told she "was not allowed to read it, and if it happened again," Amber would be punished, her mother said. "She didn't take the Bible back to school."

The school district's policy, along with the guidelines under the U.S. Department of Education's 2003 No Child Left Behind Act, gives students the right to read Bibles or other religious scriptures during lunch hour, recess or other non-instructional times.

"NCLBA, which is federal law that came in under the Bush administration, actually has this provision stating that students have a right to read their Bibles or other religious scriptures during the school day. It provides for that. It says also that you can actually get your federal funding taken away if you violate the NCLBA," Whitehead explained.

But Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, said most of the time, "right-wing groups" that file lawsuits "exaggerate what happened in school, and that is usually brought out later in the case."

"What probably happened is this kid, I'll bet you, was being disruptive. I bet this kid was proselytizing, was preaching, doing something that was annoying other kids and was told to stop. Kids don't normally want to read the Bible at lunch time-I don't care who they are. It's just not something kids want to do," said Johnson.

According to Maryanne Mangum, her daughter became a Christian a year ago. "She accepted the Lord as her savior and is really into church, church activities, and she is really into her Bible. This upset her very much, that she could not do something that she enjoyed doing," she said.

The middle school would not respond to any phone calls or e-mail requests for comment. The school has given no response to anyone, not the Mangums or the Rutherford Institute. The Prince George's County Public School's communications officer had no comment.

"They haven't said anything. They've been very quiet, not saying a word. I don't think there is much of a defense. This is not a teacher reading the Bible in the classroom. This is not a teacher reading the Bible in the lunchroom. This is a child in her own free-time reading the Bible. That's what makes it so outrageous," Whitehead said.

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