Some up­set after Gideons dis­trib­ute Bi­bles at Idaho school

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - LOCAL - BY JULIE WOOTTON-GREENER Times-news FILER

THE BI­BLES WERE AVAIL­ABLE IN THE CAFE­TE­RIA AT FILER IN­TER­ME­DI­ATE SCHOOL.

A de­ci­sion to al­low an in­ter­na­tional Chris­tian organization to dis­trib­ute Bi­bles after school hours at Filer In­ter­me­di­ate School has sparked con­cerns among some par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers.

An an­nounce­ment was made over the school in­ter­com about Gideons In­ter­na­tional hav­ing Bi­bles avail­able if stu­dents were in­ter­ested, Filer School District Su­per­in­ten­dent John Gra­ham said Tues­day.

The dis­tri­bu­tion hap­pened Nov. 12 or 13, Gra­ham said, and it was vol­un­tary for stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate. The Gideons typ­i­cally come to Filer schools ev­ery other year.

In the days that fol­lowed, Gra­ham heard con­cerns from par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers, in­clud­ing com­ments cir­cu­lat­ing on Face­book.

The Times-news left a mes­sage Tues­day at Gideons In­ter­na­tional’s head­quar­ters in Nashville, Tenn., but didn’t re­ceive a re­sponse.

The Bi­bles were avail­able in the cafe­te­ria at Filer In­ter­me­di­ate School, which serves fourththrough sixth-graders. Gra­ham said hav­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion off cam­pus would have been a safety con­cern be­cause stu­dents would have to cross busy streets to get there.

Now, the school district may not al­low the Gideons back at Filer schools — “def­i­nitely, not on school prop­erty,” Gra­ham said. “We’re not try­ing to shut them down com­pletely,” he added, but said they won’t be al­lowed “if we can’t come up with a rea­son­able plan that’s safe for all stu­dents.”

Gideons In­ter­na­tional is a group of “busi­ness and pro­fes­sional men and their wives ded­i­cated to telling peo­ple about Je­sus through as­so­ci­at­ing to­gether for ser­vice, shar­ing per­sonal tes­ti­mony, and by providing Bi­bles and New Tes­ta­ments,” ac­cord­ing to the organization’s web­site. “While we are of­ten rec­og­nized for our work with ho­tels, we also place and dis­trib­ute Scrip­tures in strate­gic lo­ca­tions so they are avail­able to those who want them, as well as to those who may not know they need them.”

The Times-news reached out to the Idaho State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion for in­sight about whether third-party groups are al­lowed to dis­trib­ute Bi­bles or other re­li­gious ma­te­ri­als on school cam­puses. The bot­tom line: It’s a com­plex le­gal is­sue.

There aren’t ref­er­ences in Idaho Code about this topic spe­cific to pub­lic kinder­garten through 12th-grade cam­puses. And schools of­ten let out­side groups use their fa­cil­i­ties after hours.

Idaho Code, though, does state: “no sec­tar­ian or re­li­gious tenets or doc­trines shall ever be taught in the pub­lic schools” and “no books, pa­pers, tracts or doc­u­ments of a po­lit­i­cal, sec­tar­ian or de­nom­i­na­tional char­ac­ter shall be used or in­tro­duced in any schools.”

Dur­ing the 2016 state leg­isla­tive ses­sion, law­mak­ers passed a bill that would al­low re­li­gious texts — in­clud­ing the

Bi­ble — to be used in pub­lic schools for ref­er­ence pur­poses, but stu­dents wouldn’t be re­quired to use them. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Ot­ter ve­toed the bill.

Some courts across the United States have ruled on dis­tribut­ing Bi­bles at pub­lic schools. On its web­site, the Anti-defama­tion League — a na­tional civil rights non­profit — writes: “Courts have uni­formly de­cided that Bi­bles from third par­ties can­not be dis­trib­uted in pub­lic ele­men­tary schools. And the vast ma­jor­ity of courts have de­cided that Bi­bles can­not be dis­trib­uted in pub­lic mid­dle or high schools, as well.”

That wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily stop a group, though, from dis­tribut­ing Bi­bles near a school cam­pus, such as from a pub­lic side­walk.

Hav­ing Gideons pass out Bi­bles to school chil­dren isn’t any­thing new. “It’s some­thing that’s gone on since the dawn of time,” Gra­ham said.

He said he re­calls when he was a teacher in Boise about 40 years ago, the Gideons went di­rectly into class­rooms.

“That ob­vi­ously has changed since then.”

TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO

Some courts across the United States have ruled on dis­tribut­ing Bi­bles at pub­lic schools.

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