Bible Handout At Mo. School Struck Down

A federal judge has again ruled against a Gideons Bible distribution at a Missouri public school.

Since 2005, the Board of Directors of South Iron R-1 School District has fought to continue to allow Gideons International representatives to enter South Iron Elementary School during fifth-grade class, describe their group and then distribute Bibles to the students. Gideons International says its purpose “is the promotion of the Gospel of Christ to all people, to the end that they might come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior.”

On Jan. 8, U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry ruled in Roark v. South Iron R-1 School District that the “principal or primary effect of the classroom Bible distribution was the advancement of religion” and that the distribution “of Bibles in the classroom during school hours with school personnel present sends a message of endorsement of the Bible and its teachings, especially when the audience is impressionable elementary school students.”

The ACLU, representing South Iron parents, sued the board in early 2006. Perry issued a preliminary injunction against the Bible distribution, and in early 2007, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. (Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the 8th Circuit, urging that the injunction against the Bible distribution be upheld.)

The South Iron Board of Trustees revised its policy to allow other outside groups to also distribute material under the same conditions as the Gideons.

But Perry was unpersuaded.

“The evidence shows that the only group who has been allowed access to the students in the classroom during the school day is the Gideons,” Perry wrote. “The Board’s conclusion that it has been operating under an open forum policy all along is based on self-serving, after-the-fact justifications that are devoid of any reliable support.”

The school board, which is represented by Liberty Counsel, plans to appeal.