DUNCAN, Okla. – A national humanist organization has threatened to sue a school district in Oklahoma because an elementary school teacher offered Gideon New Testaments to her students.
Erica Mackey is a third grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Duncan, Oklahoma. Last Thursday, Mackey reportedly announced to her students that she had several New Testament Bibles and asked if anyone would like one. Nearly all her students came up to her desk to get copies of the New Testaments.
Upon learning of the Bible distribution, one of the third grade student’s parents alerted the American Humanist Association (AHA), describing what happened. The AHA quickly emailed a letter to both the principal of the school and the superintendent of the school district, reprimanding Mackey’s in-class actions and threatening legal action.
“The school’s actions in assisting the Gideons in distributing Bibles to elementary students represents a clear breach of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and we hereby demand assurances that this practice will discontinue immediately,” the letter states.
“Numerous courts have explicitly ruled that a government’s practice of assisting Gideons (or other entities) in distributing Bibles violates the Establishment Clause,” the letter alleges.
The AHA further accuses the school of allowing Mackey to illegally influence her “impressionable” young students.
“The unconstitutional endorsement is even more troubling here because the Gideons were distributed to students in elementary school,” the letter contends. “Elementary students are vastly more impressionable than high school students and are more likely to perceive the school’s actions as an endorsement of religion.”
The AHA concludes their letter be urging the school district to follow a three-step strategy to prevent further Bible distributions.
“We demand the following assurances: (1) That teachers in your school district be advised that they are not permitted to distribute Bibles to students in class or during class time; (2) That teachers be instructed that under no circumstances should they attempt to persuade students to take Bibles during class time; and (3) The School District and its agents must refrain from leading, authorizing, permitting or condoning the distribution of Bibles at any elementary or middle school premises and during school hours, or immediately before or immediately after school hours.”
Duncan Public Schools Superintendent Melonie Hau promised to conduct “a full investigation” into the Bible distribution, according to a report from The Duncan Banner.
Despite warnings from atheists, other legal groups have expressed support for Gideon Bible distributions in public schools. In a letter from Alliance Defending Freedom, a group of legal experts argued that, contrary to atheists’ claims, “banning only religious community groups from distributing literature at public schools is clearly forbidden by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.”
“Controlling Supreme Court and Sixth Circuit precedent permits school districts to allow community groups, like the Gideons, to make Bibles and other religious materials available to students on tables in the hallways or school lobby pursuant to a neutral forum established for private speech,” the letter explains. “Indeed, excluding religious community groups from such a forum would clearly violate the First Amendment.”