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.