JUNCTION CITY, Kan. — A Kansas school district has decided to give representatives of Gideon International the boot after receiving a complaint from a prominent humanist organization.
An attorney for Geary County Schools USD 475 in Junction City sent a letter to the American Humanist Association (AHA) on Friday to provide “assurance” that the district would no longer permit the Gideons to conduct the distribution at schools.
AHA had written to Superintendent Corbin Witt and Seitz Elementary School Principal Jodi Testa on Tuesday to explain that a parent of a fourth grader at the school had contacted the organization to complain about the Bibles being made available to students on Nov. 4.
According to the correspondence, teachers told students that they could leave the classroom during pack-up time at the end of the day and take a Bible if they wished.
But AHA says that “[t]he Bible distribution made the student feel extremely uncomfortable; she also felt that the school was pushing religion on her.” The girl’s mother subsequently called Witt’s and Testa’s offices.
“She spoke with the superintendent’s secretary, who insisted that the schools are within their rights to have the Gideons distribute Bibles as long as the children are not forced to take them,” the letter outlined. “The principal indicated that the Gideons would return next year to distribute their Bibles to elementary school children and that the school would not cease this practice.”
AHA then asserted that the allowance of the Bible distribution at the school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and demanded that the district stop providing authorization of the group.
“[I]t is beyond clear that the school district violated the First Amendment by assisting in the distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary school students,” the letter read. “Because the law prohibiting Gideon Bible distribution is well-settled, … not only will the school district itself be liable for this constitutional infringement …, including in the form of the payment of attorney’s fees, but each and every school official and employee involved may be found personally liable in their individual capacities as well.”
On Friday, Mark Edwards, an attorney for the district, replied with a short notice that the Bible distributions would cease.
“Please consider this written assurance that [the district] will no longer facilitate the Gideons in distributing Bibles in our school district,” he wrote.
As previously reported, 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.