A federal appeals court is considering a Missouri dispute in which the American Civil Liberties Union challenged a school district policy that treated the Bible the same as other books and demanded the authority to veto what would be handed out to students.
The controversy arose over a request by the Gideons to distribute Bibles in the South Iron School District, which has a neutral policy that allows distribution of outside literature by various groups under set rules, irrespective of whether the literature is secular or religious.
this policy, an outside group may offer Bibles to students who wish to
take them in the same manner as other nonreligious groups are
permitted to distribute secular literature," according to Liberty Counsel, whose chief, Mathew Staver, argued the case today before a panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
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The Bible distribution was targeted by an ACLU lawsuit in 2006, and the school responded with a written policy that treats all literature the same.
But at the trial court level, Judge Catherine Perry issued an order specifically prohibiting distribution of the Bible, and the Bible alone, after calling it an "instrument of religion."
She said the district's neutral treatment of literature is unacceptable, because it actually would allow the distribution of the Bible.
"The ruling presented a novel (and unconstitutional) theory that a private third party (like the ACLU) must have the opportunity to veto the distribution request of the private applicant," Liberty Counsel said. "The veto power, the judge wrote, must be provided to veto religious, but not secular, literature."
Staver said the Constitution simply doesn't allow the Bible to be singled out, like contraband, for special penalties.
"How ironic that
in America, until recent times, the Bible formed the basis of
education, and now its mere presence is radioactive in the opinion of
some judges," he said. "The Founders never envisioned such open hostility toward
the Christian religion as we see today in some venues. To single out
the Bible alone for discriminatory treatment harkens back to the Dark
Ages. America deserves better. Our Constitution should be respected,
Staver told WND that a decision is not expected to be announced for about two months.
He said the lower court's ban targets only the Bible.
"The Quran is OK, and other kinds of religious texts; just not the Bible. The Bible alone is impermissible in the public school," he said.
Among the groups that have distributed material at the school are the Army Corps of Engineers, Red Cross, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Iron County Health Department, Missouri Water Patrol, Missouri Highlands Health Care and Union Pacific Railroad, officials said.
"The ACLU might not like the fact that equal access also means equal treatment for religious speech, but the Constitution requires equal treatment. The First Amendment protects private religious viewpoints. Hecklers may heckle but they may not veto private religious speech. ... Religious viewpoints have Constitutional protection," Staver said.
The minutes from board meetings noted the board president "explained to the board at this point, we are an open forum and any group can request to enter our school and distribute materials – atheists, communists, gay rights, etc." The minutes note the board members acknowledged the policy.
However, Perry banned the district "from distributing or allowing distribution of Bibles to elementary school children on school property at any time during the school day."
"The district court also opined that 'Bibles are different' from other forms of religious literature," Liberty Counsel said.
The Gideons, a group founded in the late 1800s, have as their "sole purpose" the goal "to win men, women, boys and girls to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through association for service, personal testimony, and distributing the Bible in the human traffic lanes and streams of everyday life."
Gideons have placed the Bible in 181 nations in 82 different languages over the years.
The organization focuses on hotels and motels, hospitals and nursing homes, schools, colleges and universities, the military, law enforcement, prisons and jails.
"The demand for Scriptures in these areas far exceeds our supplies that we are able to purchase through our donations," the group said. Much more could be done – if funds were available. However, we are placing and distributing more than one million copies of the Word of God, at no cost, every seven days in these areas. ..."
The Gideons is the oldest Christian business and professional men's association in the U.S.