WOODBURY, Tenn. — A prominent legal organization recently sent a letter to the director of an after-school program as the parents of a young boy claimed that their son was told that he could not read the Bible on the premises.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee mailed correspondence to the Cannon County REACH program late last month after being contacted by the parents of a child who has remained unidentified due to his age.
The mother states that she was contacted by the manager of the program last month and told to pick up her son. She told the ACLU that her son was prohibited from reading his Bible during the free read period and advised to select another book. When he refused, staff allegedly attempted to take the Bible from him, warning that the center could be shut down by the state.
The ACLU then sent a letter to Linda Bedwell, the director of REACH, to outline the boy’s rights under the law.
“The REACH site manager and staff’s actions and statements regarding the student’s ability to read the Bible of his own volition during a free read period demonstrate a misunderstanding of the religious liberty protections in the U.S. Constitution, the Tennessee Constitution and federal laws,” the letter read. “We believe that this incident arose from a fundamental misunderstanding of the protections and guarantees of the First Amendment.”
The ACLU outlined that the purpose of the First Amendment is to “preserve the freedom to worship” and that students “cannot be denied the right to engage in religious activities” at school, provided that they are not causing a disruption to others.
“Reading the Bible, or any other religious text, during a free read period would fall within these protected freedoms,” the letter advised.
But Bedwell states that the child is not prohibited from reading his Bible at REACH, and presented a different set of circumstances to reporters.
“I’ve seen Bibles here before,” she told the Huffington Post. “We don’t encourage or deny anybody the right to bring their Bible to read.”
Bedwell claims that the student had arrived to the program “already upset” as he had been in an argument, and that when he was asked to put his belongings away—including his Bible, he refused.
“Our mission is to continue to ensure that we treat every child justly and fairly in everything,” she said. “As for discriminating against the Bible, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Reports state that Bedwell responded to the ACLU’s letter, stating that there had been a misunderstanding, but that she would advise her staff to ensure that students have the freedom to read the Bible during the program if they so desire.
The ACLU states that it is pleased that students’ rights will be protected regardless of the disagreement over the details of the incident.