School system agrees to curb Gideons

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville-area Wilson County school system in Tennessee has agreed to ban Bible distributions on school grounds during school hours after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit.

The controversy arose after the principal of Carroll-Oakland Elementary School in Lebanon introduced students to representatives of the Nashville-based Gideons International and told a story about the time she received her first Bible.

During the assembly, students were directed row by row to walk up and receive a copy of the Gideon Bibles, which contain the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. Students were not required to take a Bible but the Associated Press reported that every child did.

A fifth-grader told her parents she took a Bible out of fear of being ostracized, and her parents contacted the ACLU, believing her rights were violated.

"Decisions about religion should be left in the hands of families and faith communities, not public school officials," Edmund J. Schmidt III, an ACLU attorney, said.

The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville reported that the Gideons have been handing out Bibles in schools for 60 years and last year alone distributed more than 11 million Bibles in the United States.

"Many communities don't see the Gideons as an outside group coming into the schools. They see it as a good thing for kids," Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, told The Tennessean.

But in recent years a series of lawsuits have threatened the Gideons, and in some cases they hand out Bibles on sidewalks next to schools.

As part of the settlement with the ACLU, the school system agreed in January to pay the activists' attorney fees, which could amount to $5,000.

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