GRUNDY COUNTY, Tenn. — Presentations from a character identified as “Bible Man” have been halted in a Tennessee school district following a complaint from a prominent atheist activist organization.
Horace Turner has been presenting assemblies at Grundy County schools for approximately 40 years without issue. He sings songs, presents Bible lessons, distributes literature and erects Christian displays for the children. Attendance is voluntary.
But last month, after receiving a complaint from a parent—whose name has not been disclosed—the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent the district a letter asserting that Turner’s presentations are unconstitutional.
“It is deeply troubling that the district allows these assemblies to take place. It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” the letter, which pertained to a presentation at Coalmont Elementary School, stated. “Allowing anyone access to public school students to proselytize, and including the events in the school’s calendar, is illegal district endorsement of the speaker’s religious message, in this case a Christian message.”
FFRF referred to Turner as a “wolf,” alluding to Christ’s words in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
“[W]hile some Christian evangelizers come as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, this wolf comes dressed as a wolf,” the letter stated. “‘Bible Man’s’ overtly religious and proselytizing messages are explicit.”
The organization asked that Turned be prohibited from conducting future assemblies, referencing the need for children to be protected from “predators.”
“The district must ensure no more ‘Bible Man’ assemblies or other religious assemblies are being scheduled or taking place in its public schools, thereby protecting children under its care from predators and upholding their constitutional rights,” the letter stated. “We also wish to be assured Bible Man is not given other access to district students, such as in lunchrooms, etc.”
But a number of parents throughout the area do not want the district to heed FFRF’s demands. They feel that Turner is being booted from school campuses, and want to ensure that he can continue to share the gospel with children.
“If people of other religions did not want to go see Mr. Turner, they were not forced to,” parent Ann Partain told the Grundy County Herald. “They had a choice.”
“At the last board meeting, there were several concerned citizens wanting to make sure that Bible Man or Mr. Turner will continue to be in Grundy County,” Dr. Willie Childers, interim director of schools, told WRCB-TV.
He explained that the district is working on an alternative where students may participate in after-school clubs, which may include a religious club with Turner. Childers said that Turner is not being banned from schools altogether.
“I believe the perception was that we’re trying to get rid of him, and that was not the perception we wanted to present,” he stated. “We are trying to make sure that the procedures that we do are legal and constitutional for every citizen.”
Turner has no affiliation with Bibleman, the televised character played by Willie Aames.