Another School Distributing Gideon Bibles

An elementary school in Flowood, Mississippi is not only allowing the Gideons to come in and distribute Bibles to 5th grade students, they instructed the teachers to take their classes through the lobby where the group was set up with a table. The American Humanist Association has sent a letter to the school district.

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center has sent a letter to officials at Rankin County School District in Flowood, Mississippi, regarding Northwest Rankin Elementary School’s actions in assisting the Gideons in distributing Bibles to elementary school students.

On October 7, 2014, the principal of the elementary school sent an email instructing all fifth grade teachers to walk their students through the lobby where Gideon Bibles were being distributed. The letter claims that by assisting the Gideons in distributing Bibles to a captive audience of elementary school students, the school district is sending the unconstitutional message that it endorses religion over non-religion and Christianity in particular.

“The school district’s actions seriously infringe upon the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and violate the terms of a court-ordered consent decree,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, in reference to a consent decree entered into by the school on November 22, 2013, in the legal center’s case of M. B. v. Rankin County School District et al. “In the consent decree, the school district admitted that it violated the First Amendment rights of our client and agreed not to violate the Establishment Clause in the future,” Miller explained.

That’s right, this same school district was already caught violating the First Amendment in multiple ways in order to proselytize students and already signed a consent decree saying they would stop doing so. Apparently they’ve learned little from that experience. The AHA letter says their new actions “demonstrate a complete disregard for the Consent Decree, or worse, an intentional unwillingness to comply with its terms.” I’m sure there will also be a note to the judge in that case asking that the school be held in contempt for failing to live up to the terms of that decree.

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  • D. C. Sessions

    Apparently they’ve learned little from that experience.

    On the contrary. “Better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission,” for instance.

    Or, “We got away with it this time. Let’s try it again!” for another.

  • doublereed

    Unrelated: DEA sets up facebook account in woman’s name after taking her cellphone, even uploading “racy” photos.

    The government’s response lays out an argument justifying Sinnigen’s actions: “Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations [sic].”

  • Neil Carter

    They know exactly what they’re doing. I taught for this school system and my children attend there. They wear their civil disobedience on their sleeves as a badge of honor, and so does the governor who recently signed into state law several protections attempting to override the Establishment Clause, which they seem to see as a threat to their faith.

  • Alverant

    I agree with Neil and DC. They know full well what they’re doing and trying to play the victim when they’re told they can’t proselytize on the government’s dime.

  • Childermass

    Of course they can make the distribution of Gideon Bibles constitutional by allowing pretty much anyone else to give out books on the exact same basis, the exact same terms, the exact same conditions, etc.

    Is there an Islamic equivalent to the Gideons? Or should we just distribute some copies of Ingersoll?

  • John Pieret

    Is there an Islamic equivalent to the Gideons?

    Given the harassment Muslims already get around the country, I doubt they’ll be willing to rock that boat. But, based on past experience, that non-Satanist Satanist group from New York would probably offer to distribute its coloring book. That should cause enough heads to explode.

  • JJ831

    I got an idea – when these things happens, the district should get sued, with the stipulation that the funds come directly from the football funding. For some reason, I think that’d get the school administrators and the local community paying attention.

  • abb3w

    Can anyone turn up a source for the details of the existing consent decree? It looks to be only available behind a PACER paywall.

  • John Pieret


    You can find the judgment and, more importantly, the “Official Policy Statement” the school district came up with in response to the suit and which it agreed to abide by as part of the judgment, here:

    The Policy Statement starts:

    It is the policy of the Rankin County School Board that school activities conducted during instructional hours should neither advance, endorse or inhibit any religion; should be primarily for secular purposes and should not obligate or coerce any person into participation in a religious activity.

    I can see the weasel minds at work. Assuming that the classes were marched past the bibles at the end of the day, that’s not “during instructional hours,” amiright? And the bibles just being on a table isn’t an “activity,” much less a “school activity” (its the Gideon’s doing, donchaknow) and giving out free books isn’t a “religious activity” anyway. The kids aren’t obligated or coerced to take the bibles, just given an opportunity to do so if they want, see.

    I doubt the Federal judge will be amused.

  • whheydt

    Perhaps the AHA lawyers should drop a friendly note to the school district’s insurance company. You know…just to give them a “heads up” so that they can be ready to write the required check…and start adjusting the rates to reflect the risks of a repeat.

  • John Pieret

    By the way, this is not the first time the school district violated the consent decree.

    In April, the school district hosted an awards ceremony for students that included a formal prayer delivered by a Christian pastor. The prayer was Christian in nature and made a specific reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Students were asked to stand and then bow their heads for the prayer.

    The AHA moved to hold the district in contempt for that breach of the consent decree and a hearing on the motion is scheduled for 12/16/2014.

  • abb3w

    John Pieret:

    You can find the judgment and, more importantly, the “Official Policy Statement” the school district came up with in response to the suit and which it agreed to abide by as part of the judgment, here:

    Ah, thank you. I thought I had seen it before, but my Google-fu failed me.

    John Pieret:

    I can see the weasel minds at work. Assuming that the classes were marched past the bibles at the end of the day, that’s not “during instructional hours,” amiright?

    Close, but wrong end of the weasel. The school website indicates the school day runs 8:45am – 3:59pm; the AHLC complaint indicates the email said “Gideons will set up in the lobby of the fifth grade building at 7:35 [AM]. FIfth grade teachers – please walk your class through the lobby at that time.” So, before the official start of the school day, rather than after the end.

    (The school breakfast starts at 8:15, it seems.)

    John Pieret:

    I doubt the Federal judge will be amused.

    He’d probably find a whoopie cushion on his bench more droll.

    Contrariwise, he also may have to admit that this doesn’t violate the letter of the policy, which may limit his ability to hand down a contempt finding. Nohow, it may well violate the consent degree at (5).

    I think the AHLC needs to make their first question in court: “Will principal Killough equally allow and promote literature distribution events by other non-Gideon’s outside groups, through at least the remainder of this school year?” That gives a nice Catch-22; if she says “no”, they’re clearly in violation of the consent decree, and the judge will hang them high. If she says yes, the school district can be asked whether the district has authorized principals to create such limited public forums; if they decide on a human sacrifice by saying “no”, the judge may limit the scope of the contempt to the principal.

    Of course, it’s possible the district will say “yes”… in which case, the Judge may well decide to let them off with being forced to lay in the bed they’ve made, merely requiring that any further changes to this policy, or any group that is refused for any reason, must be run by his bench. It’s pretty much a certainty in that case that the local humanist group will get a massive donation to allow distribution of free copies of “The Magic of Reality” by Dawkins, and that there will be a local Satanists group distributing copies of “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities” coloring book.

    And then they get to see if the principal actually instructs teachers to “please walk your class through the lobby” for those… lather, rinse, repeat.