When the School Superintendent Gets It Wrong

It seems that hardly a week goes by where we don’t hear about another public school that’s in the process of further chipping away at the First Amendment. Last week, in response to the complaint of one parent, a Tennessee public school superintendent halted a long-time practice by Gideons International of making Bibles available to students in the Tennessee public school. According to local news sources, the nonprofit group, which has been responsible for placing millions of Bibles in hotels, prisons, hospitals, military bases, and schools all around the world, has been giving away Bibles at the school for years. Students were never required to take the Bibles—they were never even handed a Bible. Bibles weren’t sent home in student’s backpacks, and teachers weren’t handing them out. Students weren’t told to read them or to memorize anything. The Bibles were simply available in the school library for students to take, free of charge, if they wanted to.

According to the superintendent, however, “the distribution of religious materials in a public school is in violation of constitutional provisions and well established federal and state laws and precedence."

If that were the case, then why have these Bibles been available in this manner for years at this school?

The answer: this superintendent’s understanding of the law governing distribution of religious materials is wrong, plain and simple. No court has ever determined that a school must ban all distribution of religious literature. If a school permits other community or private groups to distribute literature—such as advertisements for special events—it cannot ban the distribution of religious literature simply because it is being distributed by a religious organization, has religious content, or is promoting a religious event.

Even the ACLU, which is known for fiercely advocating a strict separation of church and state, understands that public schools are not “religion-free zones.” In fact, the ACLU’s website says that anyone who would make such a claim is “simply wrong.” And yet it appears that this Tennessee superintendent, along with countless other school administrators around the country, is doing exactly that. In an effort to promote “diversity” and acceptance, they seem to be satisfied with sacrificing the First Amendment rights of all on the altar of one or two who claim to be offended. Except that it “just so happens” that religious expression—and primarily Christian religious expression—is almost always the target.

In this case, one parent’s voice made a huge (albeit negative) impact at this school district. If nothing else, Christian parents and students should be emboldened by this incident to speak out in support of religious freedom in our public schools. When parents address issues they see that don’t seem right and they do so in the right way and with the right spirit, school boards and superintendents are often willing to listen. To find out what the law states regarding religion in public schools, check out our book on this subject: Making Sense of Religion in Public Schools. This book provides the legal guidelines that govern religious expression and activity in public schools and has been a tremendous help to parents, students, administrators, and public school boards across the country.

The National Center for Life and Liberty gets involved in cases like this all around the country. We are fighting to preserve the values upon which our nation was founded, including your Constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of religious expression. If you aren’t currently supporting the NCLL, click here. Thank you!