Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Louisiana public school Bible giveaway declared unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that a Louisiana public school district violated the constitution when it allowed the distribution of free Bibles to middle school students. The ruling came in a lawsuit that the Louisiana ACLU filed against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit for an anonymous family whose daughter said she felt pressured into taking a Bible even though she doesn't believe in God. The girl was called Jane Roe and her father John Roe out of fear of retaliation by schoolmates and neighbors, the ACLU has said.
The Bibles in the giveaway at Loranger Middle School were handed to students by Gideons International, which most people will recognize as the group that places Bibles in hotel rooms. Gideons International states explicitly that it distributes Bibles for the purpose of Christian evangelism.

Having God's Word can lead people to faith in Christ, and those new Christians can then grow by studying their Scriptures and even use them to share their faith with others.

For this reason, we focus on distributing complete Bibles or New Testaments. These Scriptures are printed in more than 80 languages and are either given directly to certain individuals or placed in selected public locations where large numbers of people who may be searching for answers will have the ability to encounter the Word of God.
U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier determined that the Bible giveaway at Loranger violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it served no secular purpose, and because it suggested to students that the school, and by extension, the school district was endorsing Christianity.

Despite the principal’s statement that the children did not have to take a Bible, by allowing the Gideons to set up immediately outside the principal’s office, the School Board “created the impression in young, impressionable minds that ‘the school endorsed a particular belief: Christianity.’” See Jabr, at 664.

Therefore, this Court determines that the distribution of Bibles was ultimately coercive as Jane was pressured to accept a Bible in violation of Lee; that distribution of Bibles is a religious activity without a secular purpose in violation of Lemon; and that the distribution by the Gideons amounted to promotion of Christianity by the School Board in violation of County of Allegheny. As a result, the distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary school children at Loranger Middle School violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, specifically, the Establishment Clause.
It is not clear from the judge's ruling, from the ACLU's press release, or from the AP report referenced above, whether the May, 2007 Loranger Middle School Bible giveaway was a one-time incident, or part of a series of giveaways sponsored by the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

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