Judge halts Bible giveaway at Mo. School
A federal judge ordered a small-town school to suspend a program that gives free Bibles to students, saying it improperly promotes Christianity. U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Perry also scolded school officials for continuing the program after warnings that it violated the Constitution.
South Iron Elementary in Annapolis, a town of 300 in southeastern Missouri, has quietly allowed Gideons International to hand out Bibles to fifth-graders for years. After concerns were raised last year, the then-superintendent consulted with the district's attorneys and insurance company and recommended that the handouts stop, but the school board voted to continue them.
Acting on behalf of two sets of parents from the district, the American Civil Liberties Union sued in February in federal court in St. Louis.
“The defendants were repeatedly told that their actions violated the Constitution, but they chose not to heed those cautions,”Perry wrote in the preliminary injunction issued Wednesday.
A final ruling is not expected for months.
Eastern Missouri ACLU legal director Anthony Rothert said the injunction was“a victory for parents who want to direct the religious upbringing of their children without interference from public schools.”
Erik Stanley - an attorney for Liberty Counsel, part of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which represented the school district - called the ruling unconstitutional and said it would continue to fight the case.
Gideons, based in Nashville, Tenn., distributes more than 63 million pocket-sized Bibles each year in hotels, prisons, hospitals and schools worldwide, according to the organization's Web site. A spokesman for the organization declined to comment.