A public elementary school in Kansas has decided to stop distributing free Bibles to students after a secularist group complained that the practice violated the separation of church and state.
According to Wichita Eagle, Herington Elementary School had placed a table in a hallway at the school two weeks ago, inviting fifth-grade students to help themselves to a free Bible.
After receiving complaints from parents, the legal branch of the American Humanist Association (AHA) sent a letter to the school district demanding an end to the Bible distribution.
"The district's actions in assisting the Gideons in distributing Bibles to elementary students represents a clear breach of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and we hereby demand assurances that this practice will discontinue immediately," wrote Monica Miller, a lawyer with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
Gideon International has been known for distributing free Bibles in hotel rooms and schools, as well as countries overseas.
The letter threatened the school with litigation if the Bible distribution did not stop, and cited several court cases limiting religion in public schools.
Jeff Jackson, a professor of constitutional law at Washburn University in Topeka, said that the distribution of the Bibles probably violated court rulings on religion in public schools.
He explained that the Gideons, with the help of public school teachers, have routinely handed out Bibles or miniature New Testaments directly to students in classrooms, but the practice has long been declared unconstitutional.
Jackson noted that Bible distributions outside classrooms are legal in junior highs and high schools as long as other groups that want to distribute their literature to students are allowed to do the same.
However, distributions of literature are prohibited in elementary schools because courts have decided that "elementary students are especially open to coercion," Jackson said, adding "[b]ecause of their age, they're particularly impressionable."
Ron Wilson, the superintendent of Herington Schools, explained that the one-day Bible giveaway has been a yearly tradition at the school for years, but he cannot recall exactly when it began. "In no way were we trying to impose anything on anyone," he said.
Wilson, who is in his first year as Herington's superintendent, said that he visited the school principal after receiving a complaint from a parent.
"I visited with the principal immediately and we decided at that time, going forward, we would change what had been done in the past," he said.
"Our district respects all religious beliefs and the constitutional rights of every student. We will no longer allow distribution of religious materials," he added.