WICHITA — A public elementary school in Kansas is ending the free distribution of Bibles to students after complaints about the practice violating the constitutional separation of church and state.
Herington Elementary School’s giveaway took place about two weeks ago. A table was placed at the school with a sign inviting fifth-graders to help themselves to a free Bible, the Wichita Eagle reported.
“In no way were we trying to impose anything on anyone,” said Ron Wilson, superintendent of Herington Schools.
The legal branch of the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the school district, demanding that it end the practice, after receiving complaints from parents.
“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.
Gideons International is an evangelical Christian organization known for distributing free Bibles in locations such as hotel rooms and schools, as well as countries overseas.
Bible distribution tables outside classrooms are legal in junior high and high schools only if other groups that want to distribute their literature to students are allowed to do the same, said Jeff Jackson, a constitutional law professor at Washburn University.
But such tables have been barred from elementary schools because courts ruled that the young students “are especially open to coercion,” Jackson said. “Because of their age, they’re particularly impressionable.”
Wilson, in his first year as superintendent, said he visited with the principal and decided to change the annual tradition of the one-day Bible giveaway.
“Our district respects all religious beliefs and the constitutional rights of every student,” he said. “We will no longer allow distribution of religious materials.”