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Friday, December 30, 2011

Handout of Gideon Bibles in public schools ignites controversy

The decades-old routine of handing out free Gideon Bibles in public schools has sparked renewed passions amid complaints the practice is discriminatory and no longer has a place in a secular education system.

The latest flare-up occurred in the sprawling Bluewater District School Board in southern Ontario after a parent’s objection led to the discovery the board had no policy on the issue.

Yet, there should not be a controversy. The issue is clear. Bible Distribution in Public Schools Is Illegal 

It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow these groups to distribute bibles in classrooms during the school day. Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited. This means that Gideons cannot be present inside your child's classroom or on public school grounds to distribute bibles. Public school officials—including principals and teachers—cannot hand out bibles or otherwise facilitate the distribution of bibles. 

Courts have determined that allowing bible distribution at public schools—especially to elementary students who cannot make the distinction between private religious speech and state-sponsored speech—is unconstitutional not only because it appears to be government endorsement of Christianity, but also because of the social pressures students feel to accept the bibles. Moreover, these practices infringe parents' rights to direct the religious, or non-religious, upbringing of their own children. 

In one of the leading federal court decisions on this topic, Berger v. Rensselaer Central Sch. Corp., 982 F.2d 1160 (7th Cir. 1993), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, held that classroom distribution of Gideon bibles to fifth-graders violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In striking down the school district's policy permitting Gideons to distribute bibles at the schools, the court stated, “. . . the Gideon Bible is unabashedly Christian. In permitting distribution of ‘The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ along with limited excerpts from the Old Testament, the schools affront not only non-religious people but all those whose faiths, or lack of faith, does not encompass the New Testament.” It is significant that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand this decision, just as it let stand Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert. denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954) four decades earlier. The law is clear.>>>> 


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