PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — A school district in Tennessee has banned the distribution of Bibles—and any type of religious materials—following a single complaint.
Bledsoe County Schools Superintendent Jennifer Terry told reporters that she believes the distribution violates the U.S. Constitution.
“Bledsoe County Schools do not allow the distribution of religious materials from any religious groups. The distribution of religious materials in a public school is in violation of constitutional provisions and well established federal and state laws and precedence,” she stated.
The decision means that the local chapter of Gideons International will no longer be able to make Bibles available to students. Charlie Queen, chaplain for Sequatchie Valley Camp of Gideons, said that he views the ban as a “loss of freedom.”
“We simply go in and we lay it on the table. We tell them what it is and who we are. If they want one, they freely take one,” he told WRCB-TV. “We do not hand it to them. They take it freely and voluntarily.”
The community has expressed concern as well.
“My whole congregation is very upset,” Bill Wolfe, pastor of Lee Station Baptist Church, told the outlet. “We’re sliding further and further away from the principles our nation was founded on and it’s very sad because we used to be ‘One Nation under God’. Now, I really believe we are slipping further away and we’re not going to be able to say that much longer.”
Residents plan to speak against the decision at the next board meeting. There is currently a Bible history course being offered within the district, and students bring their Bibles to class.
As previously reported, in 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed “The Old Deluder Satan Act,” which required that children be taught to read so they could learn to read the Bible.
“In being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, … and that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors, it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof, that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read,” it read in part.
The first textbook used in the American colonies even before the nation’s founding, “The New England Primer,” was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was stated to be popular in public and private schools alike until approximately the early 1900’s. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.
“Save me, O God, from evil all this day long, and let me love and serve Thee forever, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son,” it read.
Many of the Founders’ children learned to read from the primer.