The ACLU has threatened to sue Kentucky’s 174 school districts if they refuse to ban the distribution of Gideon Bibles, but the warning lacks teeth, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which contends it is based on outdated law.
“Most of the decisions cited in the ACLU’s letter are no longer good law as they were issued before the Supreme Court decided Good News Club in 2001,” ADF told school officials in a letter sent to correct an ACLU missive.
ADF jumped into action when it became aware of the threat from the ACLU.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Rory Gray. “That’s why the schools frequently allow a wide array of groups to distribute literature of various sorts to students. Singling out the Gideons while allowing other groups to distribute literature would be clearly unconstitutional.”
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The issue arose when the ACLU dispatched a letter to every school superintendent in the state, threatening lawsuits if they would not submit to ACLU demands and ban distribution of Bibles by members of the Gideons organization.
“We write to correct several misrepresentations made in the ACLU’s letter and to inform you that allowing religious community groups, like the Gideons, to distribute literate at tables in the school hallways or by the entrances and exits on an equal basis with their secular counterparts fully complies with the Establishment Clause,” the ADF letter said.
ADF argued that federal cases have “consistently affirmed private citizens’ right to share religious literature at public schools on equal terms with those promoting non-religious literature.”
According to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing Bibles to be distributed on equal terms with other material “did not advance religion but served the secular purpose of providing all community groups with an equal opportunity to communicate with students.”
ADF argued that controlling Supreme Court and Sixth Circuit precedent permits school districts to allow community groups, like the Gideons, to make Bibles and other religious materials available to students on tables in the hallways or school lobby as a neutral forum established for private speech.
“Indeed, excluding religious community groups from such a forum would clearly violate the First Amendment,” ADF said.
“The First Amendment does not allow religious speech to be singled out for discrimination,” added Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Kentucky schools should not allow the ACLU to brow beat them into a constitutional violation.”
WND has reported previously on disputes over the distribution of Bibles by Gideons and when a related group launched an effort to get children copies of Scripture.
The outreach is called the Lifebook. In its first a few weeks, it delivered more than 300,000 copies of the Gospel message to students inside their schools.
The distribution is permitted because the books are delivered by volunteer students on a peer-to-peer basis during non-instructional blocks of time, such as between classes.
Carl Blunt directs the outreach, which is a separate organization but still has links to the Gideons.
“It’s difficult with the established guidelines and case law to stop a student from distributing religious literature in the public school,” he said.
In the program, a local church is identified to provide leadership and coordination, student volunteers are recruited and trained, and the Bible messages are given to the students to hand out.
Even the ACLU has written that the students have such rights in a 2002 statement on its website.
Regarding an Iowa dispute over Christian students who wanted to distribute religious literature during non-instructional time, an ACLU executive said: “The school’s policy against the distribution of religious literature outside of class is clearly wrong. Not only does the policy violate the students’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, but it also infringes on their free speech rights.”
Blunt told WND the distribution does not interrupt the educational environment. It’s not during class periods and avoids many of the past problems associated with having adults hand Bibles to public school students.