Tenn. school district agrees: No giving Bibles
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
January 11, 2010

Tenn. school district agrees: No giving Bibles

Tenn. school district agrees: No giving Bibles
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
January 11, 2010

LEBANON, Tenn. — A school district in Tennessee has agreed

to stop handing out Gideon Bibles to students during the school day under

threat of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Tennessee chapter of the ACLU wrote Wilson County school

officials in October on behalf of parents of a fifth-grade student who objected

to their daughter feeling pressured to come forward and take a Bible with

fellow students.

The parents, who were not identified by the ACLU, said their

daughter was brought into a school gym with other fifth graders during the

school day for a presentation by a representative of The Gideons International.

The organization is known for placing Bibles in hotel rooms and handing out

free New Testaments in various public settings around the world.

The girl’s teacher announced she would be calling students

by row to come forward and take a Bible from a basket. After returning to the

classroom the teacher instructed students to write their names in their Bible.

While the teacher told students it was not mandatory for

them to take a Bible, the ACLU said the girl did so only because she feared

being embarrassed and ostracized by her friends if she refused.

“Decisions about religion should be left in the hands of

families and faith communities, not public school officials,” said Edmund Schmidt, an

ACLU cooperating attorney. “The vital constitutional principle of religious

liberty is best protected when the government stays out of religion. Students

and their families cannot feel comfortable expressing their religious beliefs

when their teachers and administrators are imposing their own particular

religious beliefs.”

In a legally binding agreement Dec.

4, school officials pledged to “immediately and forever cease promoting,

endorsing and acquiescing in the distribution of Bibles to students of Wilson

County schools on school grounds during school hours.”

“The signed agreement ensures that the school system will

not endorse one particular religious belief over another and that all students

attending Wilson County public schools will be treated fairly and have the

right to choose whether to practice their faith without school officials taking

sides,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee.

This isn’t the first time school officials in the rapidly

growing county east of Nashville have steered into rocky shoals while trying to

navigate the sometimes murky legal waters between what constitutes an

establishment of religion prohibited by the First Amendment versus the free

exercise of religion it guarantees.

In May the Alliance Defense Fund sued an elementary school

in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., for editing religious language out of posters drawn by

students to promote a “See You at the Pole” prayer event.

That was after a federal judge ruled

that allowing a group of parents to pray in the cafeteria and pass out fliers

to students at the same school violated the First Amendment.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated

Baptist Press.)