VA School Challenged on Bible Distribution


The Freedom From Religion Foundation has warned the public schools in Mecklenburg County, Virginia that they either must stop allowing the Gideons to passively distribute Bibles or allow the FFRF to distribute literature as well. The school has turned to the absurdly named Liberty Counsel for help and are apparently circling the wagons.

A hastily called emergency meeting of the Mecklenburg County School Board has been cancelled pending further legal advice.

Announced Wednesday via the division’s Facebook page as well as emails and letters sent to parents and family members of students, the meeting, which was scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m., was to deal with the division’s policy on the distribution of religious materials.

Mecklenburg County Public Schools’ policy on the distribution of religious materials in its school buildings has been challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national organization that prides itself on challenging perceived violations of America’s separation of church and state legal precedent.

According to Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has given the local school division till Monday to decide whether to continue, alter or discontinue its policy of “passive distribution” in regards to the distribution of religious materials.

“MCPS has for several years practiced a ‘passive distribution’ approach to religious materials,” Thornton wrote in the letter. “The Gideons, for example, have been placing Bibles in our schools, with the understanding that they are available to students without any influence or manipulation by the adults in the building. They are simply placed on tables or office furniture, and students may take one if they so desire. To date, this practice has not caused any problems of which I am aware.

“Recently, this practice was challenged by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and as such, our board is now faced with immediately evaluating its past practice and policy… This organization has given MCPS until Feb. 10 to make a decision as to whether to continue the practice of open distribution for all or to refrain from allowing any organizations (to include the Gideons and the Freedom From Religion Foundation) from the opportunity to distribute religious related materials in our school buildings.”

This should be fun to watch.

Comments

  1. says

    Now, look, it’s not a violation, since there’s no Establishment by one religious group. The FFRF, or indeed any other organization, is free to distribute bibles, too.

  2. D. C. Sessions says

    They’ll expand it to allow both the catholic and the Protestant bible.

    Makes sense. They are, after all, on a Mission from God.

  3. fmitchell says

    My first instinct is to place copies the Quran*, the Principia Discordia, and Atheism For Dummies** on tables and office furniture, and watch what happens to them.


    * Not that I’m endorsing the Quran, but it’s the book that sends hardcore Christians into a frothing-at-the-mouth frenzy.

    ** I haven’t read this, but I figure the title is less provocative than “God Is Not Great” or “The God Delusion” but more provocative than “I Sold My Soul On E-Bay”.

  4. Eric Ressner says

    “MCPS has for several years practiced a ‘passive distribution’ approach to religious materials,” Thornton wrote in the letter. “The Gideons, for example….

    OK, and who else, “for example”?

  5. John Pieret says

    From the article:

    [Mecklenburg County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. James] Thornton wrote that the laws currently on the books regarding the matter are “very clear,” that the division can either offer open access to all groups and materials or no access to any group or materials.

    The “laws currently on the books” are called the Constitution of the United States. But if it is so clear, why go running to Liberty Counsel?

  6. jnorris says

    Matty, seeing it was written by THE Thomas Jefferson, I am sure every student in Virginia already has one.

  7. eric says

    @11 – yeah, I was thinking something similar. The article is fairly neutral in terms of tone, law, and implying which way the school board will jump. The fact that they’re using Liberty is a big alarm bell, but in this case I’d say the district would be well served if they ignored their lawyer’s advice and the superintendent just went with his gut.

  8. Hatchetfish says

    “To date, this practice has not caused any problems of which I am aware.”

    I love it when people respond to complaints with that line. You’re being sued, idiot. Stop and think. Being. Sued. That means there’s a problem with the policy, doesn’t it? You probably meant to say that you’ve never heard any previous complaints, trying to imply that “well, gosh, we’ve never had a problem before, must be these northern agitators again, we should probably just ignore them” but that’s not actually what you said, and either way your christian privilege is blinding.

    I’m not too sold on the validity of statement analysis, but I am curious what it has to say about this particular response to a complaint: “We’ve never had any complaints.” (unsaid: “aside from this one”) It’s damn near ubiquitous in organizational deflections.

  9. says

    What about copies of “Dianetics?”

    Since it’s out of copyright I was just fantasizing about making a bunch of small bound editions of Epicurus’ principles, and including some commentary on them. A couple thousand copies wouldn’t cost very much, really.

    The best part would be having it say “This guide to ‘how to live’ left for you by The Epicureans” It sort of sounds like Gideons. :)

  10. says

    @19:

    I’m fairly certain that they’d see it as pagatheomuslim propaganda, not philosophy. It’s almost nice to know that Satanists, Atheists and Mooslims are replacing the commies under all of their beds.

  11. jws1 says

    School boards only get noticed when they do stupid stuff, and it’s usually pushing the local flavor of Christianity on captive audiences of kids. Do they ever do anything to justify their existence? Why do we have them, if not to sanction brainwashing?

  12. Alverant says

    To date, this practice has not caused any problems of which I am aware.

    I doubt it. Chances are you were told but you dismissed their concerns, that’s assuming you’re not lying outright. I wonder what you consider to be “problems”. Would christians harassing a buddhist or hindu be considered a “problem” in your school or would you consider it to be good for the victim like what we saw in Louisana?

  13. says

    I’m fairly certain that they’d see it as pagatheomuslim propaganda, not philosophy.

    Yup. I just love it when the religious try to claim “it’s just a philosopy” (buddhists: I’m looking at you!) and not a religion. Well, if it’s got great superpowered karma or dharma or souls or anything immaterial and undetectable it’s religion, not philosophy. It’d be fun to see the judge who did Dover/Kitzmiller wrestle with that one. :) Although the ancient Greeks often made references to “the gods” especially in the case of Epicurus it’s to dismiss them as irrelevant if they exist at all. That’s hardly religion. Unless saying “stamp collecting is bullshit” is stamp collecting…

  14. says

    Chances are you were told but you dismissed their concerns

    Yup. One single email complaining, one single memo or email indicating anyone ever complained and was blown off, and it’s “game over, man!”

  15. matty1 says

    On at least some accounts Epicurus and Buddha had the same attitude to the gods “they exist but are irrelevant” and the types of Buddhism vary a lot on the extent to which they include supernatural claims.

    I think some adherents at least strip it down to little more than “meditation can help you relax”, which may not be in keeping with the historical tradition but arguably has as much claim to be Buddhist as present Christianity has to being the same as the 1st Century variety.

  16. matty1 says

    @12

    Matty, seeing it was written by THE Thomas Jefferson, I am sure every student in Virginia already has one.

    Yes but I was thinking of an edition without the footnotes by David Barton.

  17. says

    types of Buddhism vary a lot on the extent to which they include supernatural claims.

    There’s that. But also I don’t treat buddhism as a philosophy because it’s, ummmmm…. not? It’s a bunch of platitudes revealed by authority. It seems to me that to be a “philosophy” it ought to at least be constructed on its own basic principles and go forward from there. I will say in fairness to buddhism that it’s fairly consistent (because it’s vague and doesn’t actually make an argument, like, you know, a philosophy would?) and isn’t riven with as many internal contradictions.

    So, yeah, religion or piss poor philosophy, your choice.

  18. slavdude says

    Marcus Ranum @18:

    Since it’s out of copyright I was just fantasizing about making a bunch of small bound editions of Epicurus’ principles, and including some commentary on them. A couple thousand copies wouldn’t cost very much, really.

    The best part would be having it say “This guide to ‘how to live’ left for you by The Epicureans” It sort of sounds like Gideons. :)

    Throw in Lucretius’s De rerum naturae and you’ve got yourself a deal.

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