FFRF protests Ga. school’s bible distribution

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was forced to revive what it thought was a settled complaint with the Bartow County School System in Georgia, over illegal distribution of bibles to elementary students by Gideons International.

At least one teacher at Cloverleaf Elementary School in Cartersville reportedly announced a bible distribution on Dec. 4. The teacher walked the students to the library, segregating children who did not want a bible on the other side of the room and, leading by example, taking a bible from the Gideon representativeFFRF’s complainant reported that in her child’s class, just one student refused to take a bible, and was teased and ostracized. 

FFRF originally lodged a complaint about White Elementary School’s bible distributions with the district in October 2012. Superintendent John F. Harper informed FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter and clarifying email that “any future practice will be reviewed carefully” and that “No principal, teacher or any other school official will encourage a student in Bartow County School System to accept a Gideon Bible in the future.”

That promise was contradicted by the report made to FFRF this week.

“Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited,” wrote Seidel in a letter sent today.

“Religion in the public schools is divisive. Here, teachers literally divided their students into Christians and everyone else. In our experience, this type of division, especially when handed down by school staff, inevitably leads to religious bullying. Here, the bullying that took place was clearly foreseeable — indeed, it is so obvious an outcome that it may have been the purpose of the division in the first place.”

“If this happens again in Bartow County Schools, FFRF will not write another letter but instead file a lawsuit,” Seidel warned.

The school sent a Facebook message to the parent erroneously claiming, “The Gideons are permitted to offer bibles to students who wish to pick them up.” Even such so-called “passive distribution” in an elementary school amounts to unlawful endorsement and coercion, contends FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, especially when the district has a track record of previously allowing active bible distribution by the Gideons. “It’s hard to imagine this district equally championing the distribution of Korans, or Richard Dawkins’ ‘God Delusion’ to young students.”

Gideons International is self-described as an interdenominational association of Christian business and professional men who are members of Protestant/evangelical churches. Their website states that they are “dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” They specifically target fifth grade public school classes for distributions of New Testaments.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, represents over 21,500 members across the country, including more than 400 in Georgia, as well as a chapter in Atlanta. It is headquartered in Madison, Wis. — very near the birthplace of the Gideons International in Janesville, Wis.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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