Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Lesson On Ancient Mesopotamia Did Not Violate Establishment Clause

In Ervins v. Sun Prairie Area School District, (WD WI, July 1, 2022), a Wisconsin federal district court rejected a claim that a 6th-grade lesson on ancient Mesopotamia which called on students to apply the Code of Hammurabi to a hypothetical situation amounted to a violation of the Establishment Clause.  The assignment, which coincided with the first day of Black History Month, caused outrage because it involved the death penalty for a defiant slave. The court said in part:

[T]eaching Hammurabi’s Code was not religious education, it was a history lesson.... Neither the school district nor the teachers who used the Mesopotamia materials promoted or endorsed Hammurabi’s Code as a viable moral code or a religious way of life. No reasonable jury could accept plaintiff’s contention that the district forced students to “engage in religion” by asking them to answer in the first person how they would punish a slave....

... [E]ven if all of Mesopotamian culture was theologically based, the teaching of that historical period would not constitute a governmental endorsement of Mesopotamian theology.

The court also rejected Title VI and 14th Amendment claims.