Oklahoma school district halts Gideons bible distribution

Foundation Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter Oct. 19 to the superintendent of Perkins-Tryon Public Schools [Perkins, Okla.] alerting the district that representatives of Gideons International distributed bibles during instructional time to students at Perkins-Tryon Intermediate School.  “It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the Gideons to distribute bibles during the school day,” wrote Elliott. “Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited. Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” the letter continued. “When a school distributes religious literature to its students, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case, a Christian message. Such a practice alienates those non-Christian students, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school.”

“In accordance with Perkins-Tryon [district] policies, the Gideon bibles may be prohibited from distribution because the Gideons violated the district’s rules,” Elliott said. He recommended the district “take immediate action to ensure Gideons International is not allowed in the future to proselytize a captive audience of children by distributing Christian literature in Perkins-Tryon Public Schools.” An attorney for the school district responded on Oct. 25 that the distribution of bibles “was inconsistent with District’s policy regarding the same.” She noted the district’s policy “comports with constitutional requirements,” and that the district “will ensure that future distributions of materials comply with the established policy.” “While the policy is not ideal,” remarked Elliott, “it will prevent the Gideons from distributing bibles to most students and will stop them from forcefully pushing the bibles. I’m sure the district would reconsider the policy should other people or groups start to utilize the policy. If a ‘there is no god’ flier was distributed, I would bet the school would start to see the problem with using part of the school as a ‘limited open forum.’ ” — Bonnie Gutsch

Freedom From Religion Foundation