In Oklahoma, a School District Is Debating Bible Distribution to Children

When it comes to the distribution of religious books in public schools, the laws are very simple: If you allow the holy books of one faith to be handed out in school, you must allow the holy books of all faiths. You’re better off, though, not handing out anything like that at all.

Gideons International — the group best known for their hotel room Bibles — has a long history of handing out Bibles to children in elementary school and they recently tried to get their books into the Grove Public Schools in northeastern Oklahoma. (Because I guess there are no churches in the state…?)

The school board, knowing a lawsuit would come their way if they allowed it, said no.

Earlier this week, though, more than 100 residents spoke out at a school board meeting urging the officials to reconsider their decision:

The Rev. Tony Wisdom and lawyer Robert Plunk urged the five-member school board to rethink the ban, which was approved this year after complaints and threats of a lawsuit from parents.

Plunk told the board that the Rotary Club gives dictionaries to third-graders and that Bibles can be offered as long as it is done in the same manner.

The board did not address the policy during the meeting and took no action.

Wisdom, who spoke to thunderous applause, said students should be given access to the greatest book ever written.

The minority should not override the majority, he said, adding that other religions also should have the right to give out materials.

Did they seriously just compare the Bible to a dictionary? That’s crazy talk. One’s full of wisdom and is an essential component of a good education… and the other’s the Bible.

And what’s with this minority/majority argument? The majority doesn’t get to overturn the constitution on a whim.

At least the school leadership is opposed to bringing divisive religion into the district, right?

Of course not:

“There were people that wanted us to lose our jobs for allowing the Gideons to pass out Bibles last year,” Superintendent Sandy Coaly said Wednesday.

“We were told if we allowed them to be passed out the school would be sued,” Coaly said. “If it was me personally, we would have them (Bibles) in our backpack and read them 30 minutes a day.”

30 minutes a day?! I guess if you cut out science class, you could always throw in Bible-readin’-time…

But here’s what we’ll do. If the school district allows these Bibles to be distributed in the schools, I vow to raise money on this site to purchase books about atheism and have them sent to every school in the district. I’ll throw in some Korans while I’m at it.

Rev. Wisdom even said “other religions… should have the right to give out materials” so let’s call his bluff.

Or we can just let the Freedom From Religion Foundation know. The fear of the impending lawsuit will scare the district back into submission.

(Thanks to Beau for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • MegaZeusThor

    A few thoughts:

    1) I would be good if people read the bible – starting at the beginning. It’s not that good.

    2) We really need to set up a Koran fund. (If there’s opposition to that “holy book”, then our argument is made for us.)

    3) We need to invent some new age religion that’s light on Woo and heavy on critical thinking and evidence so we can pass out that book.

  • Silver_fox-trot

    I think we should let them hand out bibles and call the bluff on other religious materials. If we force them not to, they’ll just try it in a different way, but if we allow them to realize on their own that they wll also allow other religions into the school, they’ll be more inclined to stop.

    Like that rebuplican woman a few months ago who was surpried that allowing religious schools into the voucher program also allowed Muslim schools into it.

  • Levon Mkrtchyan

    I’m definitely a bigger fan of handing out atheist material than suing.  If someone organizes a fund, I’d chip in a few dollars.

  • LesterBallard

    Korans would piss them off just as much, if not more. Maybe throw in copies of Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope if you want to actually kill some people.

  • Dwayne_Windham

     already exists – called Unitarian Universalism :)

  • Dwayne_Windham

    If you do a fundraiser, can you make sure it is through an official 501(c)3? While I love Chipin and all, I can get donations doubled if sent directly to a 501c3 through my employer – thanks!

  • Barefoot Bree

    “Wisdom, who spoke to thunderous applause, said students should be given access to the greatest book ever written.”

    Why? Don’t you have any at home? Come on, I’ll bet you do!

    Or are you admitting you’re too cheap to buy your kids their own bible? Is it just the freebie aspect?

    What I don’t get is why religious people feel their entire lives (or more accurately, their kids’ entire lives) MUST be saturated with god-talk every fifteen minutes. They don’t get enough god-talk at home or at church, but must also be getting it at school, too? Are their parents’ lives so constantly saturated with it? (Probably.) Or is this another area of “life instruction” like discipline, that’s being pushed off onto the schools so that parents don’t have to teach it to their precious darlings themselves?

  • Tainda

    I would donate to that!

  • TiltedHorizon

    America is a plurality, if they want to hand out bibles at school so be it, let them also hand out Torahs, Qur’ans, The Book of Mormon, and my personal favorite, the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.     

  • Guest

    Your last sentence reveals it all: your lawsuits and bluster are not about the supposedly high minded ideal of freeing people from toxic religion. They’re about forcing other people into submission to your will.

    You are exactly like religious zealots, and a disgrace to the advancement of reason. 

  • Ubi Dubium

    As much as I like UU, it’s often pretty heavy on the woo.  I second giving out copies of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    We probably would not need to raise money to give out copies of the Qu’ran.  I’d bet there’s some Muslim organizations that would be thrilled at the chance to distribute their book, and would be glad to contribute copies.

  • Slugsie

    So someone thinks the kids should be given access to a copy of the Bible. Presumably almost everyone who thought that was Christian, and thus presumably had a Bible at home? So why do the kids need access to another one?

  • Achron Timeless

    At the campus computer lab I worked at for a few years, there was an intersection nearby that the gideons would pass out bibles. People took them to be polite, but ended up dumping them next to computers in the lab. So, I took a printer paper box, filled it with discarded bibles, and went downstairs to give them back. They looked at me confused until I said “Here, no one wanted these but were afraid to tell you, so they just dumped them in the lab” and they hung their heads, took the box and left.

    That was a fun day, but it also proves why they’re going after elementary schools. This crap doesn’t work when their targets get older.

  • David Kopp

    Because they’re instinctively aware of how brainwashing works, and know that if any knowledge or questions get in through the cracks their kids might call them on their bullshit.

  • David Kopp

    …what? The lawsuits were never about freeing people from toxic religion. When you base your statement on a falsehood, there’s nothing logical that can follow.

    The lawsuits are freeing people from having religion imposed on them. You are still perfectly free to have your own religion, to even bring your own Bible to school. Just not force it on other people.

  • Dwayne_Windham

     Ummm… no… it’s about getting people to comply with the *law*, as it has been defined by Supreme Court precedent.  The board appears to realize the legal problems, but when faced with voters getting all worked up and demanding something illegal, we often need to help give the lawyer for the school board some help. That help, in this case, is in the form of a letter from the FFRF saying “YES, WE WILL FORCE THE ISSUE AND TAKE LEGAL ACTION.”

    This makes it so that this is no longer a theoretical, but a practical matter that you can now point to the whole Cranston Prayer Banner issue and talk about how much it cost the school board and essentially say “What teachers are we going to fire to pay for the lawsuit that will inevitably follow this?” “Or are you going to approve a tax increase in order to pay for the budget increase we need to pay for that?”

  • John Small Berries

    your lawsuits and bluster are not about the supposedly high minded
    ideal of freeing people from toxic religion. They’re about forcing other
    people into submission to your will.

    Right, because demanding that public schools obey the law is “forcing other people into submission to your will”.

    You are exactly like religious zealots, and a disgrace to the advancement of reason.

    Right, because just sitting back and permitting state-approved religious indoctrination contributes so much to the “advancement of reason”.

  • Patrick

    My vote goes for “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

    100 Pages of pure, distilled truth about why Christianity is one of the most destructive, divisive, and worthless ideas to ever infect our discourse.

    And it’s a quick read.

  • Simon Jadis

    When this happened in Buncombe County in North Carolina (students came home with bibles from school and parents of other faiths and non-religious parents were understandably upset), one parent decided to call the school’s bluff and brought in some books from her religion (Pagan) to the office to be made available in the same manner, but she was told that “the policy was being reconsidered.” This led to a lot of nonsense, including a school board meeting with people reading passages from the bible and even some people crying because their “God was being taken out of school.”

  • Holytape

    I would donate to that too.  Since these are elementary students, I suggest some book more geared towards kids.     Like The Illustrated Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, or Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story.

    Or you can have a booth just a little bit away from the Gideons, “Free Snickers Bar for every copy of the bible.”   Those little gideon bibles are great fodder for blasphemous art projects.

  • Justin Miyundees

    There’s already non-theist material available.  It’s called readin’, writin’ & ‘rithmetic.  That’s what they can’t stand – teaching critical thinking has been undermining religion since day one.

  • Patterrssonn

    Are you an actual person? Because your posts all read like they come from a spambot.

  • useyerbrain

    I don’t mind passing out Bibles as long as it’s an atheist organization doing it, offering a different perspective and pointing out the nastiness and absurdity.

  • useyerbrain

    Free swag. You could probably appease them with a novelty toy NFL football as well

  • Justin Miyundees

    I have the audio version – makes for great listening if you have about a 2 hour trip.

  • Joe Mama

    Free copies of the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti monster, Magic of Reality, or Letter to a Christian Nation, or End of Faith…

  • TiltedHorizon

     “a disgrace to the advancement of reason”

    Odd that such an charge should come from one who has yet to use reason in any of his/her posts.

  • Isilzha

     Except UU isn’t all that light on the Woo.

  • Isilzha

    No, it’s about preventing one group (xians) from forcing their religion into PUBLIC schools and onto CHILDREN! 

  • michael both

    Guest is unfortunately not a spambot, because that would be something that could be dissected without blood or screaming. ;)

    There is no point in responding to ‘Guest’. It is one screwed-up persona whose sole reason for existing is to troll this page. It constructs strawmen with productivity exceeding that of an insane farmer with unsaleable hay.

  • RobMcCune

    Damn that rotary club! Their dictionaries don’t spread The Word, they spread all kinds of words.

  • Pixelpusher7

    Even better; raise the money for Origin of Species

  • Skeletal Dropkick

    “30 minutes a day?! I guess if you cut out science class, you could always throw in Bible-readin’-time…”
    You can do both!! My niece who is going to a private, Christian school had the word “Bible” in her science vocab list. Insidious and propagandist… 

  • Lee Miller

    But remember that in Christian thought when you die and go to heaven it is NOTHING but constant God-talk, 24/7 for eternity.  Standing around worshiping the Great One who sent everyone else to hell.  So constant God-talk here on earth is just good preparation for after you die.

    You also can never have too many Bibles.  The more you have, the closer to God you are.  Of course, this ignores the reality that before the invention of printing (and even for long after) almost no one owned a copy of the Bible . . . the modern Bible-obsessed church is a relatively recent invention, but they just can’t see it.

  • Artor

    Ramen brutha!!!

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I just need to get a couple thousand to buy a crate of the satanist’s bible by Anton LaVey. Should be fun to do. 

  •!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

     I smell TROLL!

  • Matt E

    At the very least they can stack all those Bibles on the floor and stand on top of them to get closer to God.

  • WildRumpus67

     My UU church is very light on the Woo and pretty heavy on the critical thinking – especially in the children’s program.

  • Holytape

    [A]nd so all three the billy goats crossed the bridge.  And the ease of which they crossed surprised them, for they thought they had to outwit a dim-witted troll to reach the green fields.    

    However, the troll was nowhere to be found.   For the troll had found the intertubes.  And after many months on a diet of cool-ranch doritos and mountain dew, the troll was now too fat to leave his mother’s basement.  

  • Holytape

    But then God might spite you.  And scatter your family to the far reaches of the earth, and change your tongues so that you can’t speak to each other.  It’s true.  It happened to NASA after the apollo program.  

  • Manoj Joseph

    I think what we atheists should do is start a ‘Please read the Bible” movement. Actually go read the Bible cover to cover!

  • Gus Snarp

    I second that book suggestion. I checked it out of the library to look it over, it’s still a little bit too much for my son who is still just learning to read, but for older elementary students it seems perfect. 

  • Patterrssonn

    I know, somewhere there’s a straw village looking for its idiot.

  • Annie

     I love this idea.  I think a “Please read the bible” billboard campaign would be a nice touch.  Simply put the name of the atheist organization in small print off to the side of the larger message.  I would love to see how Christians would feign offense from a recommendation to read their own holy book.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Cabbage. Wakka wakka bang. Ibidobey. Fubba tooey wangabottle.

    …What? I was just adding value to your conversation.

  • GloomCookie613

    I’m kind of loving this idea.

    I almost want to test it on Facebook and update my status to:

    “As an atheist, I ask my friends and family to please go read the Bible. Take your time, give it a complete read-through. No skimming. No cherry-picking favourite parts (I know, Psalms is your faaave, but let’s not cheat!) Read it all, cover to cover. Read those Bibles!”

    Then again, the majority would probably, stupidly, think that I’ve converted. Damn.

  • John

     They want bibles?  Well, it’s their own fault for not being more specific ;)

  • Jeremiah Davis

    I’ll gladly volunteer my time,  take the day off work, drive the 45 mins from Tulsa to Grove and help distribute whatever Secular book is decided upon if the money is raised.

  • OCRazor

    So why don’t they just pass out dictionaries?  Problem solved!

  • Queequeg

    I wonder if they have limits on how many a person can take from them?  All I need is 400-500 of them, a steel trash barrel, and a road flare…

  • Silo Mowbray

    Yes, yes, but that’s reasonable. Guest is not known for this. Guest likes to create their own ‘No-Spin Zone’, where the centripetal force exceeds the pull of a pulsar’s gravity.

  • Michael Harrison

    While I have no problem with them distributing the greatest book ever written, what’s the Foundation Trilogy (collected as one work) got to do with Gideon Bibles?

  • Glasofruix

    Wisdom, who spoke to thunderous applause, said students should be given access to the greatest book ever written.

    Frank Herbert’s Dune?

  • kaydenpat

    “Or we can just let the Freedom From Religion Foundation know. The fear of the impending lawsuit will scare the district back into submission.”

    That’s the best option.  I can imagine any atheist leaning books will find their way into the garbage in the extremely red state of Oklahoma (if the parents didn’t riot when told of such a distribution).

  • Baby_Raptor

    It’s not “our will.” It’s the law. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    It also led to the parent getting death threats, to her face, in a board meeting. 

  • A3Kr0n

    I’d donate to that worthy cause

  • Pepe

    “the greatest book ever written”

  • coyotenose

     Origin is actually a pain in the arse to read because of the style. There must be sentences well over a hundred words long in that book. I wouldn’t inflict it on other peoples’ kids.

    My own kids, however, would probably deserve to have to read it after being raised by me.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I have a 2 hour trip often so I will have to pick this up.

  • Earl G.

    I agree.  I think Korans would do a better job of driving the point home.  The bible-heads could easily wave off an atheist or scientific text as just being part of a political stunt, but the holy book of a competing religion would be perceived as a legitimate threat to their privilege.  

    After all, atheism is not a competing religion because it is not a religion.  It’s a totally different vibe when the book you’re passing out is “sacred” vs. merely informative or well-written.  

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    But none of them will. I ask Christians all the time if they have read the entire bible and I get crickets most of the time.

  • FractalHeretic

    Yes, but did anyone else notice they’re using a condensed version of the Bible that doesn’t include the old testament? Funny thing. It goes without saying, the quickest way to become an atheist is to read the Bible. Personally, the day I stopped believing in the Bible was the day I read Leviticus.

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    Gene Wolfe’s “Urth of the New Sun,” silly. 

    but yeah. i’m on board with the “please, read the bible. all of it. all the way thru.” campaign. i really think it’s the easiest way to make more atheists. 

  • Heidi

    Could we also send them some Satanic Bibles, just to hear them scream?

  • Heidi

    Yes, please.

  • LesterBallard

    Yes, remember the idiot in LA who voted for taxpayer funding of private religious schools until she found out that included Islamic schools? That was great.

  • Ewiseman

    “Wisdom, who spoke to thunderous applause, said students should be given access to the greatest book ever written.”

    I agree, Ender’s Game for everyone!

  • Jmhendrickson3

    ‘My vote goes for “Letter to a Christian Nation.”‘

    Best book I ever read! I own three copies of it: One in paperback, one in hardback, and one e-book copy.
    I’ve read it several times already because it struck me so hard.
    I totally agree with you Patrick

  • Robster

    This is them trying to keep their book of fairy tales as (as they love to tell us) “the best selling book of all time”. That really is a big fib. Apart from ye olde copies as bought as an investment, has anyone ever paid for a bible? By the time I’d finished primary school, we’d been given enough of the bloody things to fill a shelf.  They came in handy one cold night when the wood ran out. Ah! saved by the bible, and a match.

  • Amakudari

    Or we could just fight fire with fire.

    Hell, the Bible turned me into an atheist. If this goes through, we could at least pitch in some Jefferson or Skeptic’s Annotated versions.

  • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

    I’ll second that recommendation.  The audiobook is very well done, and great when you want something to listen to when driving or working on projects.


    Do these flaming idiots not realize that the same piece of paper that says their children can’t have the Koran forced upon them, means they can’t force their Bible on other children?  (Actually, I know the answer to that question.  Yes, they are too stupid to comprehend it.)

  • Sue Blue

    I have four bibles on my bookshelves, not one of which I bought.  One is a “family bible” (one of those huge, ungainly tomes in which is recorded our family’s births, marriages, and deaths back to the immigrant days) a bible given to me when I was baptized, my grandmother’s personal bible, and one given to me when my son was born, with his name on it.   I only keep them around as mementos.  If they didn’t have some historic or sentimental family value, I’d have burned them last winter when our firewood ran out, too.

    I remember getting a Gideon bible at school in the fifth grade.  Most of the kids, me included, tossed them in our desks and forgot about them until the end of the school year, when they went straight into the trash as we cleaned out our desks.

  • allein

    My bible came from my church; they gave them to all the third graders every year. Usually I only pull it out when I’m reading here and see a reference that I don’t recognize.

    My brother got yelled at for taking a pin or something and etching a little frame around the words “Holy Bible” in the leather cover of his.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    All kinds, including bad words like vagina and penis and  aitch eee double toothpicks.

    I await the day that the dictionary entries for Jehovah and Jesus come to resemble that for Zeus, namely by declaring them mythical.