Charles McElwee: Biblical studies in WV schools unconstitutional

Charlie McElwee

Charlie McElwee

Charlie McElwee Charlie McElwee

Committee Substitute for House Bill 4780 enacted by the West Virginia Legislature on March 4, authorizes “County boards of education [to] offer to students in grade nine or above: (1) An elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible; (2) An elective social studies course on the New Testament of the Bible; or (3) An elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible.”

HB 4780 is unconstitutional in that the following decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, among others, have made it perfectly clear that under the provisions of the state constitution, the determination of the educational policies of the public schools of the state, as the cited House Bill has undertaken to do, is vested exclusively in the West Virginia Board of Education, and not in the Legislature.

“The determination of the educational policies of the public schools of the State is vested in The West Virginia Board of Education, and, unless unreasonable or arbitrary, its actions relating to such policies will not be controlled by the courts.” This is from The Board of Education of County of Kanawha v. The West Virginia Board of Education.

“An attempt [by the Legislature] to undertake the Board’s general supervisory powers [such as the goverance of schools and education in this state, decisions that pertain to education, the determination of the educational policies of the public schools of the state, and powers over state educational matters] violates the provision ... of the State Constitution which states: ‘The legislative, executive and judicial departments shall be separate and distinct, so that neither shall exercise the powers belonging to either of the others[.]’ Hence, such an attempt is unconstitutional.” That’s from The West Virginia Board of Education v. Hechler.

The Legislature continues to flout these and other decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeals by intruding into the constitutional authority of the West Virginia Board of Education to determine the educational policies in the public schools. The Board of Education should be more assertive in protecting its jurisdictional domain in matters pertaining to the state’s public-school system.

Charles McElwee is a non-practicing Charleston lawyer.

Funerals for Sunday, March 29, 2020

Clevenger, Ralph - Noon, Hodam Creek Cemetery, Hacker Valley.

Fox, Etta - 2 p.m., Blaine Memorial Cemetery, Cottageville.