July 16, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ST. LOUIS - The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri applauded the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that upheld a permanent injunction ending the practice of Bible distribution in the public school of a rural Missouri county.

The Court affirmed the injunction entered in January 2008 by the United States District Judge Catherine D. Perry that prohibited the South Iron R-1 School District from "allowing distribution of Bibles to elementary school children on school property at any time during the school day." The permanent injunction was the culmination of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri's suit that was filed in early 2006 and asserted that the 30-year practice of distributing Bibles to elementary-school children breached the separation of state and church mandated by the Establishment Clause. The district court had earlier entered a temporary injunction against Bible distribution, which was upheld by the Eight Circuit appellate court in August 2007.

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed suit on behalf of three families whose children attend the South Iron public schools. They objected to the school board's continual efforts to find ways to distribute Bibles to elementary school children during the school day after the former superintendent, the board's attorney, and the district's insurance carrier, in addition to the ACLU, explained that the practice violated clearly established law.

"Religious liberty is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights," said Leonard Frankel, of the law firm Frankel, Rubin, Bond, Dubin, Siegel & Klein, who was the ACLU's cooperating attorney on the case. "And religious liberty is best protected by keeping the government out of the realm of religions. Public schools should leave religious training to parents and churches."

"The ACLU and others made numerous attempts to work with the school board to fix this problem," ACLU of Eastern Missouri Executive Director Brenda Jones said. "Unfortunately, it has taken the intervention of the courts to stop the active promotion of Christianity to the elementary students in South Iron."

"Grade schools should be in the business of educating kids, not proselytizing to them," said ACLU of Eastern Missouri Legal Director Anthony E. Rothert, who was co-counsel for the parents. "At every step of this case, the court recognized that public schools cannot become religious recruiting grounds."

The school district was represented by Liberty Counsel, a legal organization founded by late television preacher Jerry Falwell.

The decision is available for viewing on the ACLU of Eastern Missouri's website at: www.aclu-em.org/southiron

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