Public Elementary School in North Carolina Offers Bibles to Kids

Ginger Strivelli, a parent in North Carolina, got in touch with her local chapter of the ACLU after her fifth-grade son came home from his public school with a copy of the Bible without her prior knowledge or consent.

Image courtesy of shutterstock

The school denies any wrong-doing, noting the box of Bibles was dropped off by the Gideons, who weren’t allowed any contact with the children. The Bibles were kept in the office where students could stop by for one if they wanted, and if any other religious group wanted to drop off their own texts, it would be handled in the same way.

The relevant case law suggests the school was out of line. 

In Peck v. Upshur County Board of Education, a case out of a federal court of appeals in 1998, religious groups were allowed to distribute information at public high schools.  Through written disclaimers, it was made clear that the school was not sponsoring these distributions and that the students were free to take the material if they wished. Because both religious groups and non-religious groups could use the tables, and because no one could sit at the tables and pressure students to take the material, the court held that this practice was not an endorsement of religion and it could therefore continue.

However, with respect to elementary schools, the court noted something a little different:

In elementary schools, the concerns animating the coercion principle are at their strongest because of the impressionability of young elementary-age children. Moreover, because children of these ages may be unable to fully recognize and appreciate the difference between government and private speech — a difference that lies at the heart of the neutrality principle — the County’s policy could more easily be (mis)perceived as endorsement rather than as neutrality. Thus, because our obligation as a court of appeals is to reason as we believe the Supreme Court would, we do hold that the School Board’s policy is unconstitutional to the extent that it allows the display of Bibles and other religious material in the elementary schools of the County.

Case law aside, this just offends my sensibilities. 

According to Strivelli, her son went to pick up the Bible because his teacher told the class they could all leave to get a copy and everyone else was going. 

If you’re in fifth grade, and your teacher tells you that you can leave the classroom, and everyone else is leaving, OF COURSE you’re going to go, too.  And if that happened to involve picking up a Bible, no big deal, right…?  Come on.

Strivelli also remarked that she had been required to sign a permission slip to allow her son to watch a PG-rated movie in class, yet he came home with a Bible without any of the school administrators batting an eye.  Don’t tell me that isn’t a public school tacitly favoring Christianity. (“Why would we need to tell parents their kids might come home with a Bible?  No one could ever find that offensive!  Now ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ . . . that’s another story!”)

And then we have the school’s claim that any other religious material would be treated similarly.  I don’t buy that for a second. 

You’re telling me that if a group of Muslims dropped off copies of the Koran, the teacher would have told her class they could all take a break to grab a copy?  No way. 

Or what if it was a book of Pagan spells that was dropped off? 

Interesting side note: Strivelli is a Pagan herself, and according to Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters and Strivelli’s own Facebook page, she’s working on getting some spell books into the school office ASAP. 

I’m sure the school will be thrilled! The first question is whether or not they will comply. The next question is whether or not this practice should be allowed at all.

About katherine

Born in Texas, Katherine is now a lawyer in the northwestern United States.

  • Anonymous

    and if any other religious group wanted to drop off their own texts, it would be handled in the same way

    So it doesn’t matter what flavor of ice cream you get as long you get some ice cream

    • Amelia

      Lactose intolerants be damned!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    Perhaps Richard Dawkins or some atheist group would be inclined to donate a few dozen copies of “The Magic of Reality”? After all, if they’re only willing to do this for religious groups, that would be viewpoint discrimination, favoring religion over irreligion….

    • Dustin

      This.

    • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

      I was going to suggest the same, but you beat me to it.

  • Ruby T

    They do this in Clarksville, TN, too. I called and complained and was told (and I could hear the eyes rolling) that they have about one parent a year who complains.

    • greyrogue

      And so long as it it’s tyranny of the *majority*, it’s not even really tyranny! Ugh.

    • Amelia

      Oh, well as long as your rights are infringed on by a dominant group of people and not just a lone crazy, that makes it okay!

  • MW

    Of course the mindset of the school officials is, “Who could possibly be offended by the BIBLE?!?!” And they truly think this way. As if there’s nothing offensive at all in the bible–it’s all just peace & love, man! I’m tempted to send a box of Korans to this school, myself.

    • Anonymous

      I’m with you.  I strongly suspect the officials would find the Koran objectionable – what better way for them to (possibly) learn their lesson?  I’m willing to chip in and donate to have some delivered…

  • Rich Wilson

    Strivelli also remarked that she had been required to sign a permission slip to allow her son to watch a PG-rated movie in class

    Maybe take a highlighter to some of the R-rated parts of the bible and bring it back in to ask why it’s being given to 5th graders?

    • Anonymous

      “When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.”-Matthew 27:29-31, New King James Version [The translation favored by the Gideons]

      So that’s pretty intense for elementary schoolers, but if it was a complete text of the Bible (rather than the little green ones the Gideons often hand out with just the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs), then we’re getting into a different level of creepiness.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_POBNPRAX3ZQKUBJF3XAG3WLI4A Tracy

      That’s what I was thinking.  I was given a bible at six, but fortunately didn’t read it until I was seventeen.  I was very shocked  that they’d hand that out to kids.  If they put that material in a cheap romance novel, the publisher would lose most of its readership.   Banging your passed-out-drunk father is not cool even in the smuttiest of the girl smut.   

      • Anonymous

        Also note that the story is pretty much based in racism. The end of it is that the product of that incest came to be the founders of two other tribes. The whole point of the story is to insult those tribes by saying that they came from incest.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’m sure the $cientologists would be thrilled to drop off some free material.  And would probably offers some free counseling and stress tests too.  

  • Random

    Sadly Pagan books or Atheist books would be really expensive to hand out in bulk, unlike bibles which are a dime a dozen. *sigh* Oh well, its for a good cause.

  • coyotenose

    As I noted in a local paper (having the misfortune to live in the area), the school’s argument is pretty much identical to Homer Simpson saying, “Well, I’m just going to close my eyes and move forward, opening and closing my mouth, and if any pie doesn’t have the sense to move out of my way, that’s not MY fault.”

    It’s relevant that he then cracked his forehead on a cabinet.

  • Michael

    The best link from the pagan page is this one, about a previously defeated example.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2006/05/worth-thousand-words-i-recently.html

  • Ronlawhouston

    Shoot – call the police – distributing pornography to children must be some sort of crime.

  • Anonymous

    In the UK the Gideons are allowed to distribute bibles in school.  One of my little heathens refused to take it and the others dutifully took their bibles and threw them away.  All without telling their parents.

  • Anonymous

    I think the teacher’s announcement adds to the unconstitutionality. 

  • Justin Miyundees

    “Mommy, what’s ‘generals like those of donkeys’ mean?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Okafor/1759887752 Anthony Okafor

      LMAO!!!!

  • Alt+3

    I have a copy of the Satanic Bible that I could take or leave. If I drop it off there can the kids be alerted that anyone interested can pick it up?

    Actually, considering I’ve read both of them I’d say the Satanic Bible is probably not only more appropriate for kid, it’s got a better over-all message.

  • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

    This is where I wish I had won the lottery or had mega millions or something, I’d love to buy the religious texts of about a dozen of the mainstream religions and send them to schools in a nice box set.  Make a big spectacle out of it, alert the media, and make sure everyone knows that a copy for each and every student was on its way.

    Really stress the point that the educators in the School have promised that all religious texts would be handed out equally and that, as concerned citizens, we’re making sure that all students have the option to experience the varying mainstream faiths available to them.Even have a cool acronym for it, the “Freedom of Religious Expression Coalition” (FOReC).And a mission statement (which I just made up off the top of my head):

    “We at the ‘Freedom of Religious Expression Coalition’ (FOReC) are firm believers in the Constitution, specifically the Constitutional guarantee our government will remain neutral in regard to the matters of Religious Freedom, and that our Government will make no laws limiting or endorsing any particular religion or faith as part of its functioning.

    Unfortunately we live in a country where these rights and freedoms are constantly under attack.  Daily our State officials attempt, and sometimes succeed, in endorsing one faith or religion over another.  When the agents of the State so flagrantly break the law FOReC is committed to restoring our Nation’s guaranteed Religious Neutrality by providing the State with the necessary tools and materials to endorse ALL Religions and Faiths without bias and restore the guaranteed Constitutionally protected right of Religious Freedom.”

    The eventual goal would be to get an iPad, or equivalent e-book style reader, with an non-eraseable copy of every religious text on it into the hands of anyone who was unconstitutionally handed Bibles in such a fashion.  :-)

    We’d also have to make sure we got a copy of “The Magic of Reality” on there too; got one for my seven year old niece, I hope she likes it!

    Pete…

  • Charles Black

    According to the late Isaac Asimov the bible “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” Shouldn’t we be encouraging this sort to get children to turn away from religion?

    • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

      After the survey came out that atheists new more about the Bible then many religious people, I was thinking a great campaign for a college atheist group would be to get a hold of a bunch of a bunch of Bibles and hand them out on campus with an insert that would have that quote at the top.  Anyone know any hotels that would like to get rid of all their old Bibles?  Even if you only had a few dozen, an atheist group handing out Bibles to promote atheism would be news.

  • Steve Radant

    How many kids are there in an elementary school, and how much do Gospels of the Flying Spaghetti Monster go for?  Hmmm…

  • MariaO

    I am always surprosed by this American eagerness for censoring books. It is as if you collectively think that just beacuse someone reads a book they will immediately be brainswashed and see it as The Truth. Its ridiculous when xian fanatics burn HarryPotter. It is equally ridculuos when atheists stop their chioldren from reading the bible!

    You disappoint me – I did not expect cries for censoring a book  from free-thinkers. You should be happy a book that everybody should read – as it is so much a part of our history and necessary to understand many cultures – was given for free. Trust your general parenting that the child sees it as just another book of fairytales.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      I didn’t allow my elementary-aged niece to watch R-rated movies, but you think it would be age appropriate for her to read the Bible?  Have YOU read it?  It makes the “Saw” series of movies look like Free Willy 2.  I take no issue with someone reading whatever they choose, but I do take issue with children in a public school (without their parents’ knowledge or consent) being handed the literary equivalent of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes”.

      If protecting a young child from stories of rape, violent death, vicious assaults, and countless other disgusting acts disappoints you, well, then I’m happy to disappoint.

      • http://twitter.com/pofigster Mark

        OK – while I agree the Bible is violent and has many fairly explicit sexual scenes in it, it’s a far cry from the graphic visual depiction of serial killers.  Yes, Lot ‘spills his seed’ and lots of people are killed, but the angel of death killing the first born of the Egyptians is just a note that it did so, not the affixing of a device that rips their jaw from their skull unless they cut open a paralyzed man’s gut to get a key out to unlock it from their head.  Also, depending on the translation/rewording version of the bible, an elementary school child would be unlikely to understand most of what was going on without an older figure there to explain.

        I also agree that the books should not have been distributed at an Elementary school – children are excessively impressionable at that age and an authority figure passing out or even simply making available certain materials will have an implied consent in the child’s mind.  But your comparisons are excessive and extreme, despite the factual accuracy of ‘stories of rape, violent death, vicious assaults…’

        • Northwoods Librarian

          So despite the fact that everything GloomCookies say is true, you think s/he is too extreme. Oh and plus, elementary kids are too stupid to know what they are reading so it’s fine for them to read it. OK then.

    • Northwoods Librarian

      Not allowing free copies of a book to be handed out in the school office is not “censoring”. Kids are welcome to read whatever they want, Bible included. (ptooey!) But distributing them through the school amounts to the school’s endorsement of the book – that’s an illegal endorsement of religion. Those who want everyone to be Christians are way too quick to call “censorship” and “discrimination.” Just because we won’t PROMOTE you, doesn’t mean we are censoring you.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    Next time this happens somewhere the people complaining shouldn’t even refer to it as the Bible or a religious book…just ask why pornography and violent literature are being handed out in school.  The Bible isn’t being handed out because of freedom of religion as much as freedom of speech…but speech in a public school setting, especially an elementary school is expected to be controlled.  At least elementary schools shouldn’t be facilitating the dissemination of porn.

  • Anonymous

    Just do what I did back in the mid 1990s.  With the help of FFRF I printed up a simple pamphlet titled “God is Just Pretend” and demanded to come into the schools and distribute it in exactly the manner that the Gideons did their dirty deed.  They would have allowed me to do it, but I agreed not to if they would ban the Gideons…which they did.  I’d be happy to share the pamphlet with any parent in a similar situation.
    Contact me at PAyearofthebible     at      verizon dot net.


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