Judge holds off decision in Whitney bible study hearing - KXXV-TV News Channel 25 - Central Texas News and Weather for Waco, Temple, Killeen |

HILLSBORO

Judge holds off decision in Whitney bible study hearing

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HILLSBORO - A Hill County judge says he needs more time to decide whether a bible study class can be held at a Whitney high school. The court hearing stretched on throughout the day, and now the judge has pushed his decision back to next week.

On Friday, attorneys from both sides met for a scheduled temporary injunction hearing. Two weeks ago the Prairie View Baptist Church was granted a temporary restraining order against Whitney ISD, so they would be allowed to hold two bible study meetings.

The argument began last December when the church asked the school district if they could use the high school for their bible study meetings. The school district declined their request several times for concerns about availability and student security. The school district also said the religious organization wasn't being inclusive, but rather exclusive in what content they taught.

Prairie View pastor Russell Penney spoke about the importance of the ministry and why he felt the church needed to be in the school with the students. He emphasized that the bible study had to be immediately after the school day so they could attract several students and get more involved. He argued that if the bible study was held hours later, then participation would be down and the ministry wouldn't be successful.

Penney says the two weeks the ministry was allowed at the school they were put inside a portable, and didn't have a single problem with the school. He also admitted that the school district did reach out to him to use the high school at a later time permanently or at a different location with the time he requested. Penney rejected both options.

Several people were asked to speak in front of the judge on Friday, but no one was more scrutinized than Whitney ISD superintendent Gene Solis. He said that his problem with the church's request was not because they lack the space for them at the time they want, but because he was more worried about the students. He didn't believe that he had the power to endorse a religious group or any outside group, and expose them to his students.

Solis argued that the group could meet, but hours after the school day was over. He said in the fall, all the classrooms would be used up when school ended and there would be no place for the bible study until later in the day. He did admit that he had yet to look for alternative venues for the church to accommodate them in the fall.

He also said if the church was allowed on school grounds they would also open up the door to future "fringe groups" they may be interested to use the school.

The judge said he needed the weekend to review the testimony and the exhibits presented before him.
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