Cumberland Co. Schools Say No to Bibles
Special Report - November 28, 2007
Private groups will no longer be able to leave Bibles or any other “proselytizing texts or materials” in Cumberland County elementary schools after public school officials caved in to pressure from a disgruntled mother and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC). According to the Fayetteville Observer, the mother of a fifth grader at E.E. Miller Elementary, filed a complaint with the ACLU-NC after learning that New Testament Bibles were left on a table in her son’s classroom. The Bibles bore the stamp of the Gideons, International, a group that distributes Bibles in schools and hotel rooms. Even though teachers did not compel students to take the books and did not comment on them, except to say that they were available, according to the boy’s mother, she was offended by the practice.
The school district’s previous policy had allowed outside groups to make appropriate reading material, including religious texts, available to students in the classroom. The school system’s attorney, David Phillips, at first confirmed that policy according to the November 18, 2007 edition of the Fayetteville Observer. However, a day later on November 19, he circulated a memo through all 54 elementary schools in Cumberland County, changing the policy with regard to elementary schools. He advised them to prohibit the distribution of Bibles or any texts that aim at proselytizing.
The decision in Cumberland County follows the suspension of the distribution of Bibles by outside groups in Harnett County schools earlier this month after a similar complaint from the ACLU-NC. Both school systems were seemingly influenced by the ACLU-NC’s contention that a 1998 federal case decided by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Peck v. Upshur County Board of Education, allows outside groups to “passively offer the Bible or other religious material” only to secondary school students. The Fourth Circuit opinion limited the practice to secondary schools, because it believed elementary age students were exceptionally impressionable due to their age and would believe the school itself had distributed the Bibles.
Attorney David Cortman of The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) sent a letter to the Superintendent of Cumberland County schools on November 20, 2007, noting that three years after Peck the U.S. Supreme Court rejected this argument about the impressionability of elementary school students. The letter cites the Supreme Court case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School, which refused to proscribe distribution of religious literature in schools on the basis of “what the youngest members of the audience might misperceive.” According to ADF’s letter: “It is entirely constitutional for school districts to permit the distribution of Bibles to school students pursuant to a policy of equal access for literature distribution by outside groups. Further, the age of the students is irrelevant to the constitutionality of such a policy.” The Superintendent of Cumberland County has not responded to ADF’s letter, which also offers free legal representation to the school district if it reinstates a policy of equal access permitting Bible distribution and is subsequently sued.
“ADF has given the Superintendents of Cumberland and Harnett Counties ample legal authority to allow the Gideons to passively offer Bibles to students in their schools,” said North Carolina Family Policy Council Attorney Tami Fitzgerald. “To prohibit offering Bibles in public schools merely because of their religious content is a violation of the First Amendment Free Speech Clause and Free Exercise of Religion Clause.”
Copyright © 2007. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.