Beware Gideons illegally handing out bibles on school grounds
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, is sounding the alarm on unlawful, exploitative activities in public schools by The Gideons International.
"It takes constant vigilance to keep the Gideons out of public schools," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF has received numerous complaints about bible distributions taking place on public school grounds and within school walls. Recent parent complaints about these bible pushers have come from all over the country.
• In Murray County Schools (Ga.), a group of unsuspecting fifth-grade students were led down a hallway by their teacher in order to receive a bible from men distributing them in the school.
• Gideons set up a table on school grounds directly in front of the entrance to Norwood Elementary School (Norwood, Mo.), to distribute New Testaments to passing students.
• A student reported that in Weld County Re-9 District Schools (Ault, Colo.), men were pushing bibles near bus stops on school property. “Even if someone would walk by with no interest, they would encourage [students] to get one by putting it in their face,” according to one student.
• In the Eaton School District (Eaton, Colo.), a parent reported that the Gideons trespassed on school property to handout the bibles. The parent said that one man was blocking an exit of the high school and holding a door for students, which caused an impasse as students were exiting the building. The parent said that the number of men was “overwhelming” and that the students were “obviously startled and concerned.”
• It is FFRF's information and understanding that the Gideons were distributing bibles to all fifth-grade students in DeSoto County Schools (Hernando, Miss.). A complainant informed FFRF that members of this organization came into the classrooms at Oakgrove Central Elementary and asked, “who wants a free bible?” Other complainants informed FFRF that this distribution occurs at DeSoto Central Elementary as well. This raises concerns that it is a common practice in all Desoto County Schools.
• In the Poudre School District (Fort Collins, Colo.) a parent reported that men were blocking the sidewalks outside of Weber Middle School. The complaint made the local news, which reported that Gideon representatives even photographed students and put a bible in the bicycle basket of one student who had refused one.
FFRF's legal team wrote superintendents to complain over all of these violations. In a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott to Rob Ring Jr., superintendent of Schools for Weld County RE-9, "It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the distribution of bibles on school grounds to a captive audience of students. Courts have held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools is prohibited."
The Gideons International is self-described as “an interdenominational association of Christian business and professional men who are members of Protestant/evangelical churches. Our members are dedicated to saving the lost through personal witnessing and the distribution of God's Word in more than 180 countries around the world.” The Gideons website openly refers to community schools as a prime target, specifically “students in the 5th grade and above.”
"Courts have almost unanimously agreed that distribution of bibles in elementary schools is unconstitutional because young elementary school children are too impressionable to make the distinction between private religious speech and school-sponsored speech," said Gaylor. "It is unconscionable," she noted, "for predatory adults to target young children who are a captive audience in our public schools."
FFRF has stopped violations occurring with principal's knowledge one year, only to have the principals reinvite the Gideons the next. FFRF has stopped the Gideons from distributing bibles on school grounds, only to get complaints from parents that when the Gideons moved across the street, they enticed children to rush into traffic to get the “free” wares being hawked.
"As parents, we carefully instruct our children not to accept any gifts from strangers. The Gideon practice of distributing bibles to school children teaches them to ignore parental guidance and can pose safety risks when children have to find their way around the representatives," said Gaylor.