Missouri School District Agrees to Stop Distributing Bibles to Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
June 3, 2004 12:00 am

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KANSAS CITY, MO — A Kansas City Metro Area school district has agreed to stop distributing Gideon International Bibles to elementary-school children on school premises, settling a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri on behalf of a Roman Catholic father of three.

“”The role of the public school is to be neutral on matters of religion,”” said Dick Kurtenbach, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “”When public schools are neutral, they are serving both the interests of religion and the government.””

Under the terms of a court-ordered agreement, called a consent decree, the Smithville R-II School District agreed that it would not “”aid, abet, or assist in the distribution of Bibles to school children on school premises,”” or “”grant permission to any non-student to distribute Bibles on school premises.””

The consent decree came in response to a lawsuit filed in April by the ACLU on behalf of Kenneth Geniuk, a Roman Catholic father of three. According to the complaint, the school had “”assisted in the distribution of Gideon Bibles to children”” on school premises and, as such, interfered with the religious upbringing of Geniuk’s children in violation of the religious freedom clause of the Constitution.

Geniuk also claimed that “”by placing the imprimatur of government approval on the distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary school children, [the school district’s] conduct has caused and will cause irreparable harm to my right to determine the religious upbringing of my children.”” The consent decree applies for as long as Geniuk has one or more children enrolled in Smithville schools. Currently, two of Genuik’s children attend district schools and a third will enter kindergarten in 2005.

Lawyers Larry M. Shumaker and Kelly Jackson filed the complaint for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. They were prepared to show that the distribution of bibles on public school property with the assistance of school personnel violated fundamental constitutional principles about religion under the First Amendment.

Shumaker and Jackson expressed their satisfaction with the consent decree and said that Geniuk was delighted that the public school will stop giving unwelcome religious materials to students with diverse beliefs in violation of their constitutionally protected rights. The decree was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr.

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