FFRF ensures Gideon ban from Michigan school district

1gideons-internationalThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has made sure that the Gideons won't ever again be permitted to distribute bibles in a Michigan school district.

A concerned Union City Community Schools community member contacted FFRF to report that several adult members of Gideons International were allowed into Union City Middle School during the school day, where they distributed a bible and another book, "The Life Book," to each student.

"Courts have held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Superintendent Pat Kreger last month. "In striking down a school district's policy permitting Gideons to distribute bibles in classrooms, the 7th Circuit stated, 'The Gideon Bible is unabashedly Christian. In permitting distribution of "The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," along with limited excerpts from the Old Testament, the schools affront not only nonreligious people but all those whose faiths, or lack of faith, does not encompass the New Testament.'"

Gideons International is self-described as an interdenominational association of Christian business and professional men who are members of Protestant/evangelical churches. The Gideon website openly refers to community schools as a prime target, specifically students in the fifth grade and above. The Gideons traditionally distribute New Testament bibles to proselytize and convert children to Christianity. "Having God's Word can and does lead people to faith in Christ," the group's website says.

Public schools have a constitutional obligation to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students, FFRF emphasizes. By allowing Gideons to distribute bibles to students, the district is impermissibly endorsing religion by placing its "stamp of approval" on the religious messages in the bible. Such a religious endorsement alienates non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school, including the 35 percent of young Americans who are nonreligious.

In reporting the violation to the school superintendent, FFRF indicated it understood that he perhaps was unaware this bible distribution took place. The Gideons operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards and advise their members to seek permission at the lowest level of authority, usually targeting teachers and principals.

FFRF's hunch was proven correct.

"I have investigated this claim and found that, without knowledge of the district administration, religious literature was distributed to fifth grade students," Kreger recently responded. "Union City Community Schools does not support the distribution of religious material within our schools during the instructional day. Therefore, this practice will not happen again. I have communicated with all building leadership as well as teachers and directed this practice to cease."

FFRF is glad that it helped stop a constitutional violation.

"We knew the Gideons' modus operandi from past experience," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "School districts all over the country should beware."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 28,000 members and chapters across the country, including 700-plus and a chapter in Michigan. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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