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Wider Impact Feared in Suit Over Textbook

July 22, 1986|United Press International

GREENVILLE, Tenn. — A lawyer for Tennessee school officials said Monday that some people's religious beliefs are so "sweeping" that the only place for their children to be taught is at home or in private religious schools.

Timothy Dyk told U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull that a suit by fundamentalist parents challenging the 1983 Holt Basic Readers as "anti-Christian" had far greater ramifications.

"This is a case about a whole curriculum," Dyk said. "These objections (by the parents) are so sweeping and so difficult to understand as to put a teacher in an impossible position. Any teacher's going to be afraid of getting sued.

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"We can't comply with their beliefs and teach them at all. The only place for them is to be taught at home or to go to religious schools."

The parents claim that the Holt readers violate their religious beliefs by teaching evolution, witchcraft, secular humanism, feminism and idol worship. They want their children, many who now attend private, Christian schools, to use different books.

While the suit questions just the Holt readers, Dyk said it is clear that the parents' religious convictions would also be violated by material taught in science and history.

But attorney Michael Farris, who is representing the parents, told Hull that the defendants were trying to expand the lawsuit.

"We are asking for only one thing," Farris said, adding that Tennessee officials had backed the parents into a corner.

"Violate your religious beliefs or give up your right to public education--that's what they're saying," Farris charged.

'Floodgate' of Demands Feared

Earlier Monday, Tennessee Education Commissioner Robert McElrath testified that teaching the fundamentalist students from different books would open a "floodgate" of demands for different texts in every subject.

McElrath told Hull, who is hearing the case without a jury, that it would be impossible to meet the parents' demands because teachers would have to decide what material might offend a given child on religious grounds.

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