No, the FFRF does not approve of your elementary school’s bible distribution program.

I read this story today.  It’s about an elementary school in Tennessee that sent home permission slips with kids.  If signed, it would permit the child to return home with a copy of the New Testament from the Gideons.

Immediately I thought “that’s obviously against the law.”

But then I kept reading and I saw this:

But school officials say that potential is already in place in schools and that all groups, religious or otherwise, receive equal treatment.

Hamilton County’s practice is all-or-nothing when it comes to making outside materials available to students, said school board attorney Scott Bennett. If a principal allows the Boy Scouts to distribute leaflets, then the same privilege must be afforded to the Gideons, Catholic groups or Muslim groups.

“We cannot create a barrier to the distribution of religious literature that is not in place for secular literature,” Bennett said. “We have to be viewpoint-neutral.”

Bennett said this policy has been previously reviewed by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, both groups that are wary of government involvement with religion.

And I about did a double take.  Surely my understanding of the law with regard to public schools was not that off base that the FFRF had vetted this policy and found it to be Constitutionally acceptable while I thought it was a gross violation of the law.

So I emailed Andrew Seidel at the FFRF.  It turns out the FFRF does not, in fact, approve of that policy.  When I asked Andrew if it was true, he said:

Most definitely not true.  That distribution didn’t actually happen, thanks in part to a call made by our senior Staff Attorney, Rebecca Markert.  She is working on a letter about the bible distribution this week.  Permission slip or not, it is our stance that bible distributions should not be happening in public schools.

That’s what I thought.  The obligation of the schools is to neutrality.  Students can take religious initiative, but the government (read: the school) cannot endorse any religion.  That is simply not a right afforded to our government as an institution.  The school does not have to be viewpoint neutral on everything, just on religion.  And the way viewpoint neutrality is achieved is by staying the hell out of it.  The school can’t say god doesn’t exist just like it can’t say Jesus is lord.  So if you allow a secular organization (not sure if the boy scouts counts, in my mind, but legally they do) to distribute leaflets (as long as those leaflets don’t contain religious proclamations), that doesn’t obligate you to let every priest and Imam waltz onto your campus and start dispensing propaganda.

I don’t know what happened here, if the reporter messed up or if the administrator was full of shit, but the FFRF most definitely does not support a program that allows children to be sent home with bibles.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • John H

    Woah, the Boy Scouts are a legally-secular organization? Has anyone told them? They mandate a belief in (a) god(s) to be a member – in what reality is a religious litmus test “secular”? (To answer my own question, very possibly whatever reality the Right-wing members of the Supreme Court have constructed for themselves.)

    • Spuddie

      Tell me about it!

      Ironically it was founded on the notion of being non-sectarian, by a gay man. Religious belief is really only tangentially important in scouting. Citizenship being the more important element to it. Lord Baden Powell absolutely railed against the idea that people would align themselves by religion over their nation.

      The US approach to funding scouting invites churches to sink their claws into the organization through coercive funding. But churches are not the only sponsors nor were they ever meant to be.

      The troop I when I was growing up, was funded by the American Legion. To their credit, they consistently ignored the directives involving gay scouts and scout leaders to no ill effect. Eagle Scout candidates from my troop were (I think, they still are) prepped to dodge questions involving the “2 G’s” Gays and God.

      The whole religious part of this comes from churches doing as much as possible to appropriate the organization and drive out sane secular financial backers.

  • busterggi

    Lying for juh-HEEEE-zus as usual.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m sure the ACLU didn’t approve it either. It’s a good strategy though because it’s not like the people who want it to be true are going to actually attempt to verify it. If only those bibles they were passing out had some sort of divine injunctions against lying, this could be avoided.

    • Mackinz

      Preaching against teh gaaaaay with, like, four verses is [i]obviously[/i] more important than preaching against lying, which has closer to fifty.

      Likely because all of those quotes are taken out of context… right?

  • Composer 99

    Ah, but all the attorney said is that the policy has been reviewed by the FFRF and ACLU, not that it has been approved.

    • Loqi

      This is what I think when I see “USDA inspected” beef.

      • Mel


  • SLC001

    Spelling Nazi here. His name is spelled Bieber.

  • Glodson

    I don’t know what happened here, if the reporter messed up or if the
    administrator was full of shit, but the FFRF most definitely does not
    support a program that allows children to be sent home with bibles.

    I would feel better about blasting them if I knew which it was. Reporter error does happen, and that I can see how one might misunderstand this. But it is not outside the normal operating procedures of such people to directly lie for Jesus.

  • theAtheistAxolotl

    The report says that the policy “has been previously reviewed by groups…”. This isn’t saying that those groups endorsed the policy, merely that they reviewed it. I would guess that it is a case of misdirection by Bennet, but isn’t technically an outright lie.