Tuesday, April 09, 2013

ACLU Seeks to Ban Bible Distribution in Kentucky Schools

Threatens "personal liability" claims against school administrators

This from the Christian Post:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky sent a letter Thursday to 174 public school superintendents citing the possibility of a lawsuit in the 2013-2014 academic school year if they continue to allow The Gideons International to distribute Bibles, the New Testament and religious literature to students on public school campuses.
In the letter accompanying the Open Records Act request, William Sharp, the ACLU Kentucky staff attorney, states that the distribution of religious literature on public school grounds during school hours violates federal law. He also accuses elementary school staff of violating federal laws by being complicit in allowing The Gideons International to distribute Bibles to students.

He wrote, "… this practice violates both federal and state constitutional guarantees barring governmental endorsement of religion, and it also impermissibly encroaches upon parents' prerogative to direct the religious upbringing of their children. By allowing an outside group to distribute sectarian materials directly to public elementary school students during school hours, school officials create the impression that the school endorses those religious views which subjects the students to 'subtle coercive pressure' to accept the proffered religious materials."

"As part of that assessment," Sharp continued, "we are also closely examining whether, in an appropriate case, school officials may be personally liable for violations of clearly established federal law."

Michael Aldridge, the executive director of the ACLU Kentucky, said in a statement: "Directing the religious upbringing of one's own children is one of the most fundamental rights a parent can have. When government officials, including school officials, take it upon themselves to usurp that parental prerogative, they exceed their governmental authority and undermine religious liberty.

"The ACLU of Kentucky fully supports the rights of all religious groups to promote their message of faith. Government officials, however, cannot allow our public elementary schools to be used by others to promote one religion over another."

The Gideons International faced similar challenges from the ACLU in Missouri and Tennessee, in which the ACLU claimed that Bible distribution to students in school classrooms and on campus grounds was "unconstitutional."

In Tennessee, the ACLU and school officials in White County, Tenn., settled on an agreement that would ban The Gideons International from entering fifth grade classrooms to distribute Bibles to students, but would allow the distribution of religious and secular materials as part of a forum. The forum, however, would ban the promotion of religious literature, and limit the organization's contact with students.

In Missouri, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District found in 2008 that "the practice of Bible distribution in the public school of a rural Missouri county was unconstitutional," according to the ACLU website. "The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed suit against the South Iron School District in February 2006. The court had earlier entered a temporary injunction against Bible distribution, which was upheld by the Eight Circuit appellate court in August 2007."

The ACLU also fought the distribution of Bibles to military recruits in all branches of the Armed Forces, citing that The Gideons International was "granted privileged access" to give away free Bibles and literature to soldiers at Military Entrance Processing Stations.

In 2007, the ACLU sent a letter to the commanding officer of MEPS "to determine the extent to which religious and non-religious organizations were permitted to circulate literature," which prompted the U.S. government's decision to allow all organizations, secular and religious, to distribute literature, thus avoiding the impression that the government endorses Christianity over secular beliefs or other religions.

The Christian Post contacted The Gideons International for comment, but a representative was not available to respond at time of publication.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Strange how the bible use to be the only commonly held book in most frontier homes that could be used for common reading instruction both in and outside of schools. Now we have people who are afraid its free distribution as some sort of cooercive infrengement on church/state seperation.

What next, redact from textbooks that Dr. M.L. King was baptist minister or make sure that we don't build churches within eyesight of schools?

Suppose to bring in folks from the outside to enrich cultural diversity and knowledge of world religions but not Christianity?

Anonymous said...

That all sounds great to me!

Richard Day said...

April 10, 2013 at 1:44 AM:
Is it really that strange? Let's consider the whole story.

You are correct, the entanglements between public schools and religion are well established and numerous. The Bible frequently served as a reading text, largely because of its availability and its broad acceptability among the protestant majority.

Of course, at the same time, the common teachings in school were overtly hostile to Catholics, so much so that Catholic families separated and formed parochial schools. Whenever a specific religion is promoted by the government (which includes public [government] schools) it violates half of the religion clause - that the government may not establish religion.

Of course, there is a second half to the clause - that neither can the government prohibit the free expression of religion. So an individual student may read the Bible, pray in school, study the literature of the Bible and more.

It's really tricky stuff and over the years the courts have struggled with it.

The way that all played out in my hometown was that all of the Catholic kids went to the Catholic schools, and the remaining Protestant kids in my public school went to week day school of religion every Wednesday afternoon during school hours, read Bible verses, prayed, had Christmas pageants...and did all manner of things that established our school as safe for protestants.

If a child from another faith had entered our school, they would have felt marginalized in many ways. It's tough being in the minority. Personally, I like it that American's try to protect minorities, to some degree.

Frankly, as a Christian, I'm not crazy about the Gideon's adherence to the King James version as the only true expression of Christianity. I don't want the Gideon's telling my kid what to believe any more than I want the government doing it.

I haven't seen anyone redacting M L King from textbooks, but in Texas we have seen them take Thomas Jefferson out of the social studies curriculum and replace him with John Calvin. What's that about?

Anonymous said...

Weird, we worry about a handful of guys handing out free new testiments to kids one day out of the week but don't seem the least bit worried as a society that our kids are walking around with Iphones, Ipads, etc. which provide them with infinite access at their leasure to view any word or image associated with any manner of truth, falsehood or anything inbetween.

I value the ACLU but it they really wanted to make a difference on this old planet beyond inflating issues like this in TN or MO, why not expand their scope globally and help those who don't even have a choice in the first place. I am sure some women under the taliban or folks living in North Korea could sure use their help.

Anonymous said...

Why not just have one day where you allow all faiths and beliefs access to a public area for voluntary distribution of their various materials. No prostletizing or recruiting, just handing out free material to take or not to take? I know it sounds strange to be providing reading materials but I kind of thought that exposing folks to information beyond their current level of knowledge was part of our charge. Couldn't they get any of these items from their school library anyway?