A public school district in Georgia is distributing Bibles this week — and as a result the school is being threatened with a lawsuit if it does not stop.
The move came after Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the national Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)m was told by a parent of the distribution at Cloverleaf Elementary School two years after the group had first asked the school to stop the practice. The group says the action is an “appalling violation” of the student’s freedom of thought.
This time Seidel wrote a letter to Bartow County Superintendent John Harper reminding him of his 2012 promise to ban the distribution of Bibles in school, adding:
“If this happens again in Bartow County Schools, FFRF will not write another letter but instead file a lawsuit.”
Seidel did give some credit to the superintendent, noting that he may not be aware of the situation, as “the Gideons operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards.”
According to Michael King for 11 Alive Atlanta, one mother had questioned why her son had returned home from school with a bible.
“I was just shocked that the school system would do that,” she told 11 Alive. “I tried to contact the superintendent. He has not returned my call.” According to Leo, “We were in class, our teacher said that these people had volunteered to hand out Bibles, and she said there’s going to be a line in the library.”
Students were given the option of taking one or not, but according to the FFRF letter, one child who did not accept the Bible “was teased and ostracized and forced to defend herself by saying that she ‘believed in God, but in a different way.’”
The mother did receive a Facebook message from the school, explaining why they were distributing Bibles, reports Will Hall for The Christian Examiner.
“The Gideons are permitted to offer Bibles to students who wish to pick them up,” the note read. “It is strictly voluntary and the library was the location where students could pick one up; our librarian did not hand them out.”
Seidel equated the action of having adults hand out the Bibles to “tobacco companies trying to get kids when they’re young.” He said the law is “very, very clear and very strong” pertaining to religion in public schools, offering the examples of three other rulings against bible distribution in schools in Indiana, New Jersey and Missouri.
In a separate incident in Orange County, Florida, Seidel had asked the school to discontinue its bible distribution practice, to which the school responded by starting an “open forum” policy, allowing anyone of any religion to distribute materials. Seidel then asked about distributing literature pertaining to atheism. “After that, they basically said, ‘Just kidding,’” he said. After the school denied the request, FFRF filed a lawsuit, which the school settled by agreeing to abide by the policy. FFRF then invited representatives of the Satanic Temple to come distribute informative coloring books. The school board is currently considering closing the forum.
Mark Goldfeder, Emory Law School senior lecturer and Law and Religion Students Programs director, told Beth Greenfield for Yahoo! Parenting that the Florida incident “was a strategic move that’s quite brilliant.” He mentioned that the other three cases referenced were “not binding” and that “until we have a court ruling here we have no violation.” He said the school could always suggest an open forum, but, “What they can’t get around is that once you open this forum, you cannot keep out other religious groups.”