ACLU of Tennessee Stops Unconstitutional Bible Distribution In White County School

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
May 9, 2011 12:00 am

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ACLU of Tennessee
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School Board Agrees To Settlement

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

SPARTA, TN – In an effort to promote religious freedom for all White County students, the ACLU of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) today settled a case with school officials that ends the unconstitutional distribution of Bibles to students at a White County elementary school.

On April 14, 2011, ACLU-TN sent a letter to White County Schools Director Sandra Crouch demanding that the practice of allowing outside groups to enter public elementary schools during the school day to distribute religious texts to students cease immediately. ACLU-TN sent the letter on behalf of Jane Doe, the parent of a White County fifth grader who contacted ACLU-TN after her daughter, Jenny, was compelled to take a Bible during instructional time.

“This agreement ensures that White County students can now exercise their Constitutional right to make religious decisions with their families and faith communities, without fear of coercion by school officials,” said ACLU-TN Legal Director Tricia Herzfeld.

Last month, two members of Gideons International were allowed into Jenny’s fifth grade classroom at Doyle Elementary to distribute Bibles. The teacher introduced the Gideons, explained that they were there to give the children Bibles, then instructed them to come up row by row to take a Bible from a box sitting next to the Gideons at the front of the classroom “if they wanted to.” Jenny felt compelled to take a Bible as she feared being ostracized by her classmates and teacher if she did not. Jenny’s mother contacted ACLU-TN after attempts to address the problem with the school system herself failed.

In accordance with the settlement, school officials will only allow Bibles to be distributed as part of a forum used to distribute both religious and non-religious materials; limit contact between students and individuals distributing religious texts; refrain from specially promoting the availability of religious materials to the exclusion of other materials; and require clear disclaimers of school endorsement to be posted at the distribution site.

“White County Schools’ decision to enter into this agreement reinforces the important constitutional guarantee of religious freedom,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “Their efforts ensure that all students will be treated fairly, regardless of their religious beliefs.”

Others experiencing similar religious activities in their public schools can notify the ACLU of Tennessee at (615) 320-7142 or http://www.aclu-tn.org/gethelp.htm.

Additional information about the ACLU of Tennessee is available at: www.aclu-tn.org.

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