A couple of weeks ago, in Duncan, Oklahoma, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School teacher Erica Mackey announced she had a surprise for her third-grade students:
The student reports that Mrs. Mackey announced that she had “the holy Bible” and asked if anyone would like one. Nearly all the students walked up to her desk and she handed them out. After seeing his classmates take Bibles from the teacher, the child felt peer-pressured and coerced to do the same.
“What makes this particular incident so egregious is the impressionable nature of elementary school students, who are more likely to see their public school’s involvement in disseminating religious materials as an endorsement of that religion,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Numerous cases make clear that public schools cannot assist the Gideons in distributing Bibles to school children.”
“There can be no question that this teacher and this school were engaged in the promotion of Christianity,” said David Niose, the American Humanist Association’s legal director. “This kind of activity is a clear violation of the principle of church-state separation.”
Miller’s letter made a few specific requests to the district:
In view of the aforementioned authorities, it is beyond clear that the School District violated the First Amendment by assisting in the distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary school students. Based on the above, we demand the following assurances: (1) That teachers in your school district be advised that they are not permitted to distribute Bibles to students in class or during class time; (2) That teachers be instructed that under no circumstances should they attempt to persuade students to take Bibles during class time; and (3) The School District and its agents must refrain from leading, authorizing, permitting or condoning the distribution of Bibles at any elementary or middle school premises and during school hours, or immediately before or immediately after school hours.
All of those should be a given already, but the rules clearly didn’t get through to Mackey, who took it upon herself to “save” these children, their parents’ wishes be damned.
But there is one little exception in the case of high school students:
… the District reserves the right to allow such distribution of Bibles or other religious materials insofar as it concerns secondary students. Any such distribution shall only be permitted after a complete review and prior approval by the District’s Superintendent and the District’s legal counsel to ensure that it is done without coercion and in a constitutionally acceptable manner.
That would open the door to passive distributions, like the ones we saw in Florida, where groups like the Gideons requested a table from which students could pick up a Bible after school.
Of course, in that case, The Satanic Temple and atheist groups requested their own tables, which led to all sorts of entertaining controversy.
If that’s what this district in Oklahoma wants to do, I doubt they’ll see much resistance from non-Christian groups.
(Image via eBay. Large portions of this article were published earlier)