Inappropriate religious distribution at La. elementary school crossed line

The Life Book - Mark by The Life Book - Issuu

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strongly objecting to the distribution of  unconstitutional and highly objectionable religious material at a Louisiana elementary school.

A concerned community parent informed the state/church watchdog that Journey Church, a church from the area, distributed during school hours on or around April 9 “The Life Book” at Lessie Moore Elementary (in Pineville, La.), which serves students from pre-K to third grade. “The Life Book,” published by Gideons International, contains passages from the bible with annotations from fictitious characters who “read along” with the reader. According to its official website, the book’s sole purpose is to “saturat[e] high schools with God’s word.” One portion of the book speaks exclusively about sex and sexuality. FFRF’s complainant felt that this was inappropriate for their third-grade child. Administrators reportedly instructed students to turn the book in later that day.

FFRF is asking the Rapides Parish Schools system to investigate the incident and to ensure that religious groups are not allowed to distribute religious literature on school grounds in future.

“It is well-settled law that public schools may not show favoritism toward nor coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Hirsh M. Joshi writes to Superintendent Jeff Powell. “A religious text was given to these young students with the hope that they read it as truth — like everything else they get from school. That itself is jarring.”

Yet more jarring is the explicitly sexual nature of the last section in “The Life Book,” titled “Relationships and Sex.” This section talks about God’s wish for humans to not engage in premarital sex, both with biblical text and annotations. One offensive annotation in the last section compares premarital sex — and promiscuity — to slavery. A character writes:
So many of my friends think they are ready for sex. But what do we really know? Are we ready for babies, STDs, and for broken hearts? I have a really good friend who thought she and her boyfriend were ready for sex, so they went ahead and had it. She thought it was love, but found out pretty fast it wasn’t. She gave up her heart to a guy who didn’t really care, and dumped her a few weeks later. But then she figured that since she had already had sex once, it wasn’t a big deal to do it again … and again … and again. That is what being a “slave” means — she couldn’t stop herself even though she hated herself more and more every time she had sex with another guy. That’s why I think God saves sex for marriage — Tay

“Presumably, the school did not screen or otherwise view the nature of the literature being distributed on its campus. Assuming that churches and their agents are well-meaning and incapable of malicious or otherwise delinquent conduct itself shows a strong unconscious bias against minority religions and the nonreligious.” writes Joshi.

FFRF is pleased that the school collected “The Life Book” after discovering its inappropriate nature. But the damage was done. FFRF’s complainant notes that their child, who did not take a “Life Book,” was still exposed to “The Sex Book,” as their peers called it, by peers. The children had absorbed the content and collecting the book later that day was too late.

In order to respect the First Amendment rights of students, the school district must ensure that Lessie Moore Elementary ceases allowing churches or other outside groups to distribute religious literature to students while on school property during school hours, FFRF insists. “If the district chooses to maintain its policy, it does not have the right to discriminate on account of religion, and has to let everyone — including FFRF — distribute materials to children.” adds Joshi.

“It is unacceptable for an elementary school to allow Gideons International or any similar missionary group to distribute bibles or other inappropriate material to its students,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Rapides Parish Schools officials must make certain that this sort of thing does not recur.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including members in Louisiana. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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