Gideons International (an evangelizing Christian male organization) is not allowed to distribute bibles to students at Idyllwild Elementary School in Hemet, Calif. FFRF's complainant told FFRF that this practice, which was approved by the district, was one of several instances where her child was sent home with religious materials, including church fliers containing scripture.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Superintendent Barry Kayrell on May 24, demonstrating why this practice is flagrantly unconstitutional: "The District may not allow any religious groups to enter school property to distribute religious literature, allow teachers to pass out bibles of their own volition, or allow any administrator, teacher, or staff member to give religious messages, symbols, displays or advertisements to school children. Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. When a school permits the distribution of religious literature to its students, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message."
Seidel wrote, "It is unfortunate that the Gideons view public schools, particularly elementary schools, as ripe territory for recruitment. It is vital to protect young district students from predatory adults preying on a captive audience. While the district has no authority to regulate their behavior off of school grounds, the district has an obligation to prevent these distributions from taking place on the school campus and to get students home safely."
On July 10, Superintendent Kayrell responded that, "During the time the Gideon representatives were in the area of Idyllwild School, the principal ensured they kept to the public sidewalks. However, some students exiting the front door of the school may have used the public sidewalk to get to the bus and may have accepted a bible from the representatives. In the future [we] will make sure that students do not use the public sidewalks while boarding the bus."
-Compiled by Lauryn Seering