A North Carolina family is suing to keep young adult novel “The Poet X” from being read in their son’s freshman class at Huntersville-based Lake Norman Charter School. On Monday, John and Robin Coble appealed to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia to overturn a North Carolina district court ruling; the family claims the assignment violates their freedom of religion.
“We are in a fight to protect our children’s First Amendment rights to learn in an environment that is free from religious discrimination and hostility towards our beliefs as Christians,” John Coble wrote on a GoFundMe page.
“Lake Norman Charter High School has adopted for use in [ninth] grade English “The Poet X,” a book filled with profanity, sexual situations involving minors and over 20 anti-Christian verses which we will not reprint here,” Coble wrote. “We feel that reading this book in the classroom constitutes a hostile work environment for Christians and we believe that there is no place for soft-core pornography in schools.”
The Cobles also asked the court to grant an emergency injunction blocking the book from being studied while the case goes through the court; however the Fourth Circuit denied the request.
According to court documents, the Cobles claim teaching the book is a violation of First Amendment rights. “The School’s plan to teach the book to the young impressionable minds in their public secondary school runs afoul of the most basic precept underpinning the Religion Clauses – that government must remain neutral in matters of religion and is certainly forbidden from promoting or endorsing materials that exhibit hostility toward or disparagement of any particular religion.”
The school told The Charlotte Observer that they offered the Cobles an alternative book to read.
The Cobles’ lawyer Joel Bondurant provided court documents to The Virginia Star. In the documents, the Cobles argue that an alternative assignment does not address the First Amendment violation.
“Because of the heightened constitutional concerns in the primary and secondary schools, the Supreme Court has routinely held that offering a voluntary alternative to the offending practice is not sufficient to salvage the unconstitutional policy, ” the documents said.
In his denial of the restraining order against using the book while the lawsuit proceeds, North Carolina District Judge Max Cogburn expressed concern over the school’s use of “The Poet X.” “The Court is troubled by Defendants’ decision to teach a book that is so controversial that they have an established opt-out procedure in place to deal with ‘several students who have chosen not to read ‘The Poet X’ this fall.’ (Doc. No. 9),” Cogburn said.
Nevertheless, Cogburn said offering alternative coursework protects the Cobles from the alleged harm of the book.
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs are not likely to suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction because the school has provided accommodations to Plaintiffs’ son that enable him to opt out of reading the book while still receiving the same quality of instruction from a different English Language Arts certified teacher,” he said.
The Fourth Circuit Court also declined to grant an injunction while the case proceeds. Nevertheless, Bondurant said they will continue with the lawsuit.
In an email Bondurant said, “The [Fourth] Circuit also denied an emergency request for injunctive relief pending appeal but did so in a short order that doesn’t give any insight into the court’s thinking. So now we just go forward on the merits.”
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