The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that Tennessee school districts end unconstitutional bible distributions occurring within multiple schools.
After receiving an increase in the number of complaints from Tennessee residents regarding bible distributions in the public schools, the national state/church watchdog has written to the state’s 146 school districts to educate them that such distributions are unconstitutional.
Bible distribution scenarios at Tennessee public schools have included two “guests” going into a middle school classroom during class time and asking the children to go to the front of the room to take a bible. In another school, tables were set up in a hallway before noon, effectively creating a bottleneck that forced dismissed students to walk by the tables while two men distributed bibles. In both instances, students reported feeling uncomfortable and pressured to interact with the men and take the Christian bibles.
As FFRF’s memorandum notes, Gideons International, a male-only association of Christian business and professional Protestant evangelicals, is the organization most commonly associated with school bible distributions. Its website openly refers to “students in the fifth grade and above” as prime targets. Members are instructed to “personally witness and distribute God’s Word.” The Gideons modus operandi is to deliberately bypass superintendents and school boards, instead seeking permission at a lower level of authority, FFRF warns the school districts.
Even when the distribution of religious material to students in school is done passively, from a table or some other fixed location, courts have ruled that distribution may also be unconstitutional, FFRF reminds the Tennessee school districts. The best policy to avoid the insidious methods of bible distributors and to respect the rights of students and their families is a policy that does not allow third-party literature distribution.
“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students,” FFRF emphasizes. The distributions stigmatize the nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population that is not religious and are alienated by the unlawful distribution. “Adult men insisting on handing out any material so that they can personally share their religious beliefs with school children should raise red flags,” FFRF adds.
Comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor: “Public school officials must protect a captive audience of young students from the Gideons — or from staff with religious boundary issues. What has been happening in Tennessee public schools is illegal and coercive and sends a completely wrong message to parents, students and members of the communities.”
The memo went out by mail on June 29 and was also emailed to more than half of the superintendents or school districts.
Read the memorandum.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is a national nonprofit organization with currently more than 37,000 members, including more than 450 members and an active state chapter in Tennessee. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.