Georgia mother threatens lawsuit because of Bibles in elementary school

by Will Hall, |
Leo Greene with mother, Jessica, looking, reads from the Bible he received from Gideons at his grade school. Screen Capture/WXIA-TV, Atlanta.

ATLANTA (Christian Examiner) – A free offer of Bibles to students at Cloverleaf Elementary School in Cartersville, Georgia, has caused one mom to threaten a lawsuit.

A fifth grade teacher told her students that visitors were in the library to hand out Bibles to anyone who asked for a copy. One young man, Leo Greene, went with classmates to pick up a copy. But when he got home, his mother, Jessica, who says she is a Christian, told Leo he had to give it back.

"I was just shocked that the school system would do that," she told WXIA-TV in Atlanta. "I tried to contact the superintendent; he has not returned my call."

But she did receive a Facebook message from the school.

"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."

But the explanation was not enough for Greene. She contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a small anti-Christian group based in Wisconsin, and they wrote the Barstow County School District to complain and threaten a lawsuit.

Describing his group as a "national nonprofit organization" dedicated to separation between church and state, the foundation's staff attorney, Andrew L. Seidel said they represented "21,500 members across the country, including more than 400 in Georgia."

Despite the relatively obscure membership, the U.S. population is about 310 million and the state of Georgia has about 10 million residents, Seidel threatened to sue the school system for what he said was an alienation of those with other beliefs and "pressure to violate their personal religious beliefs."

The Wisconsin group insisted "the District may not allow Gideons, or any other religious groups, to enter school property to distribute religious literature" without seeming to endorse the religious message.

The letter demanded the district instruct all staff that distributing Bibles is illegal and requested "a copy of that communication," and asked that Cloverleaf Elementary teachers and the principal be reprimanded.

"If this happens again in Bartow County Schools, FFRF will not write another letter but instead file a lawsuit," Seidel concluded.

Facing similar claims against Kentucky public schools in 2013, Alliance Defending Freedom's Rory Gray rejected FFRF's assertion, based on information distributed by the American Civil Liberties Union, a liberal cause advocacy group, about distributing Bibles.

Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative religious liberty advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, that works to protect the rights of Christians across the country.

"Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas," he wrote to Kentucky officials. "That's why the schools frequently allow a wide array of groups to distribute literature of various sorts to students."

"Singling out the Gideons while allowing other groups to distribute literature would be clearly unconstitutional," Rory said. "Federal cases have consistently affirmed private citizens' right to share religious literature at public school on equal terms with those distributing non-religious literature."

Two U.S. Circuit Courts have ruled that distributing religious literature, specifically Bibles, is constitutionally protected.

In 1998, the Fourth Circuit concluded distributing Bibles among middle and high school students "did not advance religion but served the secular purpose of providing all community groups with an equal opportunity to communicate with students" as long as the activity was on equal terms with other religious material in an area open to other religious groups. The Sixth Circuit expanded the ruling to include elementary students in 2004, saying the distribution of religious literature in public schools did not constitute an endorsement of religion.