IFAS | Freedom Writer | January/February/March 1990 | bible.html

Gideon Bible giveaway ends

Action initiated by Freedom Writer has resulted in the termination of a 40-year-old tradition of Bible distribution in Louisiana's Rapides Parish School District.

Last December, Freedom Writer received a call from the parent of a fifth-grader in the Ruby Wise Elementary School in Alexandria, one of the 51 schools in the district. Initially, the parent complained to school officials and a local newspaper abou t the custom. However, no action was taken. Some school board members openly admitted that they encouraged the practice.

We contacted Rapides Parish School superintendent Allen Nichols and informed him that the Bible distribution program was unconstitutional. We asked him to issue an order to school principals in the district to end the Bible distribution program. He was un willing to comply, but said he would present our request to the school board at its next meeting. Our request made it clear that we were prepared to initiate legal action to stop the unconstitutional tradition.

Meanwhile, the story made front page headlines in Louisiana newspapers. The Gideons International of Louisiana took note and contacted Superintendent Nichols. In their letter to Nichols, the Gideons wrote, "Since the distribution of the Gideon New Testame nt has become controversial, the Gideons wish to withdraw from this distribution ministry. It is our policy not to become involved in any controversy, but to withdraw and pray. Accordingly, it is our hope that this matter can now be dismissed."

The Gideons are more that just book distributors; they are missionaries. The Gideons freely admit that they see public schools as fertile mission fields. Their literature states, "The primary object of the Gideons is to win others to the Lord Jesus Christ , and an effective means to this end has been the wide distribution of the Word of God." One of their programs is the distribution of "Youth Testaments" to students from the fifth grade up, at public and private schools. A "Youth Testament" is a New Testa ment with Psalms and Proverbs.

While the Gideons have a right to distribute religious literature in hotels, hospitals, and public places with an open forum for religious literature, to do so in public schools communicates the message of government endorsement of religion to impressiona ble school children, in violation of the constitutional requirement for church/state separation.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.