Current Affairs

Atheist organisation threatens lawsuit against school handing out Bibles to students


Bibles are reportedly being distributed to elementary students in a Georgia public school district this week — something that represents an “appalling violation” of children’s freedom of thought, says the national Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). It’s why the organization has threatened to file a lawsuit if the practice doesn’t stop.

“This is a captive audience of young and impressionable children,” Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for FFRF, which promotes the separation of church and state, tells Yahoo Parenting. He says he recently received word from a parent that representatives fromGideons International had been doling out Bibles to students during class time at Cloverleaf Elementary School — two years after FFRF had first contacted the district about the troubling practice. This week, Seidel penned a letter about the situation to Bartow County Superintendent John Harper, reminding him of his pledge to ban the Bible distribution back in 2012, and noting, “If this happens again in Bartow County Schools, FFRF will not write another letter but instead file a lawsuit.”

The letter also acknowledges that the superintendent may not have been aware of the bible distribution this time, as “the Gideons operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards.”

Harper did not return a call from Yahoo Parenting requesting comment, nor did Cloverleaf principal Evie Barge. The Gideons Interntational, based in Nashville, Tennessee, also did not respond to a request for information regarding their school-distribution policies.
According to an 11 Alive Atlanta story, Jessica Greene was alarmed when her fifth-grade son Leo brought home a brand new Gideon Bible on Thursday. “I was just shocked that the school system would do that,” she told 11 Alive. “I tried to contact the superintendent. He has not returned my call.” According to Leo, “We were in class, our teacher said that these people had volunteered to hand out Bibles, and she said there’s going to be a line in the library.” Students were then given a choice to either take a bible or not, he said. Leo took one. But one child who chose not to, according to FFRF’s letter, “was teased and ostracized and forced to defend herself by saying that she ‘believed in God, but in a different way.’”
Seidel points out that adults handing out religious information to children has a “predatory nature” about it, and is akin to “tobacco companies trying to get kids when they’re young.” He believes the law has been “very, very clear and very strong” on the idea that religion has no place in public schools, citing three other rulings against bible distribution at schools in Indiana, New Jersey, and Missouri.
“The courts have been very diligent in protecting students,” he says. In a similar situation in Orange County, Florida, recently, Seidel notified a school regarding its bible distribution. The school that administrators had started what’s called an “open forum” policy — which welcomes anyone of any religion to distribute materials. Seidel says the FFRF tested that by asking to hand out literature about atheism. “After that, they basically said, ‘Just kidding,’” he says. The school denied that request and the FFRF filed a lawsuit. To end the lawsuit, the school agreed to abide by the open forum policy; in response to that, FFRF invited representatives of the Satanic Templeto hand out informative coloring books. Now the school board is considering closing the forum in the ongoing case.
According to Mark Goldfeder, Emory Law School senior lecturer andLaw and Religion Students Programs director, the introduction of atheist and Satanic Temple literature in Florida “was a strategic move that’s quite brilliant.” He tells Yahoo Parenting that, while the three prior court cases FFRF mentions show strong precedent, they are “not binding,” and that “until we have a court ruling here we have no violation.” The school district could always claim they’ve established an open forum, as Florida attempted to do. But, Goldfeder says, “What they can’t get around is that once you open this forum, you cannot keep out other religious groups.”
Because of that, he called opening a forum as a way of distributing bibles a “terrible idea,” as well as a “dangerous one that I’ve seen backfire.” He points out that “we live in a country where kids have easy access to bibles — but where they may never otherwise hear about the Satanic Temple.” So even if policy makers agree with the idea of Christian proselytizing, he says, they may want to think again.

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