DELTA, Colo. (Christian Examiner) – The atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation wants its literature distributed in the middle school of a small Colorado town after the school district refused to ban the Gideons International from distributing Bibles there.
In December 2015, a teacher at the school took students to the library. During the visit, the teacher informed students that the Gideons had provided Bibles for the students if they wanted to take one on the way out of the room.
One student, who objected to the giveaway, snapped a photo of the stacks of red and blue Bibles on her cell phone and sent it to her mother. The mother then contacted FFRF, alleging that students who did not take a Bible were bullied or "shamed" by other students.
According to the litigious Wisconsin-based atheist group, the fact that the Bibles were in front of the door the students had to exit (making it impossible to walk past the Bibles without seeing them) made the offer a violation of separation of church and state. The group has reportedly contacted the Colorado school district on a number of occasions.
On Feb. 29, the school district's attorney responded. It claimed that it was "not disqualifying the Gideons from making their materials available" and explained that any error in how the Bibles were distributed were on the part of school personnel and not the Gideons International.
The attorney also said FFRF could "directly submit any materials you wish to have made available to students" to Superintendent Caryn Gibson.
"If she does not disapprove of them, you may leave them at the schools just as the Gideons did, and then return after school to pick up any leftovers," attorney Aaron Clay wrote.
That offer was not good enough for FFRF, which clearly wants only to ban the Bibles.
"In spite of repeated FFRF requests, the Delta County School District has refused to have the Gideons stop distributing Bibles in the local public schools. So FFRF and its allied organizations are asking permission to hand out freethought materials there. These include brochures and booklets such as 'Top 10 Public School State-Church Violations and How to Stop Them' and 'What's Wrong With The Ten Commandments?'
"It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideons International to distribute Bibles as part of the public school day, FFRF contends. Even when distribution of religious material to students in school is done passively — from a table or some other fixed location — courts have ruled that that distribution may be unconstitutional," a statement from the group said.
But in a March 3 letter to the school district, FFRF's Andrew Seidel requested the district allow the atheist group to not only distribute free-thought literature. It also wants it to distribute books discussing the "X-rated" sexual practices contained in the Bible and a Satanic coloring book – provided by the Satanic Temple – to counter the Gideons' "message of eternal damnation for any who don't believe in their God."
Importantly, FFRF said distribution of the Bibles "may" be a violation of church and state. In the past, courts have ruled against the distribution of Bibles in elementary classrooms, but the Gideons modified their approach, handing the Bibles out on public sidewalks outside of schools. They also leave literature without making contact with students, as they did in the Delta County Colorado Schools.
FFRF's Seidel said the distribution, since some children pressured others to accept a Bible, might violate Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Education, a 1999 case where the school was held responsible for refusing to halt the sexual harassment of a student. The same ruling on sexual harassment could be applied to cases of religious harassment, he said.