An Idaho federal court has ruled that the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (the “Commission”), the body that regulates public charter schools in Idaho, did not violate either the U.S. or the Idaho Constitution when it banned the use of religious documents and texts in the public school setting. Nampa Classical Charter Academy (NCA) is a non-profit charter school in Idaho that is regulated by the Commission. NCA’s curriculum is based on a “classical” format, the focus of which is primary source materials (rather than textbooks) in educating students. NCA teachers use a variety of original/primary source documents in teaching their courses, including materials such as the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, etc. When the Commission acted to prohibit the use of religious documents in the public school curriculum, NCA, its founder, an NCA teacher and several NCA students sued, claiming that their First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution had been violated in several respects. Among other things, the plaintiffs claimed that “[t]eachers have a free speech right to choose which books, sources and supplementary materials to use,” and that students have a First Amendment right to receive an education, which is part of their right to free speech. The plaintiffs also claimed that the Commission’s actions violated their rights under the Idaho State Constitution.
The court rejected the plaintiffs’ Free Speech claims, finding that “students and teachers do not have a First Amendment right to influence curriculum as they so choose.” The court also held that the curriculum taught in public schools is government speech, not individual speech, as the plaintiffs had asserted. In addition, the court ruled that the Commission would have violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution had it permitted the curriculum proposed. The Establishment Clause prohibits the government — e.g., public entities such as school districts — from either endorsing a particular religion or promoting religion generally. To read more about this case, please click here.