Related topics

Minister, Author Testify as Humanism Trial Draws to Close

October 22, 1986

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Testimony ended Wednesday in the trial of a lawsuit challenging the influence of so-called ″secular humanism″ in schoolbooks, with a minister testifying in favor of textbooks that don’t mention God.

U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand, who is presiding over the 2 -week-old trial, gave no indication when he might rule on the suit, but court officials said a ruling could be months away.

The suit was brought by some 600 parents and teachers who claim secular humanism is a religion that permeates Alabama’s textbooks while Christian, Jewish and other faiths are ignored.

The Rev. Floyd Enfinger testified that textbooks that encourage students to choose their own values do not conflict with Christianity.

″On the contrary, the situation might be conducive to Christianity,″ said Enfinger. ″We need to decide whether to believe the Bible or not. Our parents can’t decide for us. They can’t choose Christ for us. They can’t choose church for us.″

Enfinger, a Methodist, was one of two witnesses who testified Wednesday for the Alabama Board of Education, which is defending itself against the lawsuit.

School board attorney Charles Coody asked Enfinger ″If these textbooks do not mention God, would you view this as a denial of God and the spiritual nature of man?″

″Not at all,″ said Enfinger, of Prattville.

Also Wednesday, Joan Kendall, chairman of the education committee for the conservative group Eagle Forum, testified.

The Eagle Forum has a committee that reviews textbooks, and she was asked if any other group has a textbook agenda.

″The ACLU,″ she replied, referring to the American Civil Liberties Union. ″They’re the ones that don’t like teachers to wear crosses. They’re the ones that don’t like creche scenes on public property. They’re the ones that protect porno publishers.″

The other closing witness for the school board Wednesday was Verdene Ryder, the author of one of the 47 textbooks that figure in the case, a high school home economics book called ″Contemporary Living.″

Mrs. Ryder, a retired teacher from suburban Houston, Texas, denied her book promotes a Godless theory of learning, saying her writing had been ″taken out of context″ to support the plaintiffs’ argument.

She said the book actually ″allows for teachers to bring into the classroom the religious leaders of the community″ to participate in discussions about death.

Bob Sherling, an attorney for the textbook critics, asked why the book compared death of a person to the death of pets or flowers and advised students not to say that God had taken a loved one away.

″The best way to talk to children about death is the through the things they relate to, such as pets or flowers,″ Mrs. Rider said. ″It’s on the level of the child’s understanding.″

A dozen parents entered the case, which grew out of a 1981 school prayer suit, on behalf of the defendants. They were represented by attorneys from the Washington-based People for the American Way and the ACLU.

At a news conference, Anthony Podesta, president of People for the American Way, said, ″Whatever the final outcome of this case, the immediate impact is to intimidate teachers and textbook publishers around the country into dumbing-down American public education.″

Podesta said trying to define secular humanism ″is like trying to nail jello to a tree.″

However, Sherling, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said he felt they had presented a case acceptable to the court. He said ″parents were the ones who were injured″ by the textbooks. He said their evidence showed that harm to the students had an effect on their parents.

Attorneys will submit final arguments to the court in writing.

Update hourly