After being informed that a Gideon Bible hand-out in Delta Middle School library during class time on December 18, 2015 violated U.S. laws guaranteeing separation of church and state, violated the School District’s policy governing the distribution of non-curricular literature in multiple ways and caused students who did not take bibles to be bullied and harassed, Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson responded by saying:
Thank you for your concern and email. Delta County School District honors the separation of Church and State. The Gideon Bibles were left on a table and optional for 6th grade students to take. No staff members distributed the non-curricular materials at anytime. Attached is the Delta County School District policy on non-curricular material.
Delta County Public Schools 50J
That was it.
No acknowledgement that the school district’s own policy was violated, no acknowledgement that constitutional law was violated.
Clear Violations of School Policy, No Acknowledgement by District
It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow bibles to be distributed in classrooms during the school day. American courts have uniformly held that distributing bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited, and school officials like teachers and administrators cannot facilitate the bible handouts. At Delta Middle School, social studies teacher Michael Long took his class to the library during their regular class period, told the students there were bibles on a table by the library door, and they could take one if they wanted. The event gave the appearance that the school endorses Christianity above other religions.
Under the law, Gideons can only distribute religious literature off campus, on municipally-owned public sidewalks well off school grounds.
In addition, the DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy in not one, but in four different ways.
1. District policy states (pdf) that any “printed non-curricular material” cannot be distributed in “any classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.” The reporting student’s class was held in the school library on 12/18 so the class could do research. The library was the students’ classroom that day, during regularly-scheduled class time. Moreover, this wasn’t the only class held in the library that day, or the only class in which bibles were foisted upon the students.
2. District policy states “Distribution [of non-curricular materials, like bibles] may be made 1/2 hour before school and/or during regularly scheduled lunch periods…..Any other times during the school day are considered to be disruptive of normal school activities.” [Italicized emphasis added.] This student’s social studies class was held in the library at 9:40 a.m., as was previously pointed out to the superintendent, during normal school hours. More than one teacher brought their class to the library during school hours that same day.
3. Delta School District policy also states “Students may not be used as the agents for distribution of such materials without the written consent of the student’s parents.” Mr. Long’s social studies students became agents for the Gideons’ distribution when they started pressuring other students to take a bible. No written consent was solicited from the parents of these students regarding solicitation of bibles.
4. District Policy states “No student may in any way be compelled or coerced to accept any materials being distributed by any person distributing such materials or any school official.” Both Mr. Long and some of his social studies students pressured the reporting student to take a bible. Another element of the policy states teachers can not endorse the literature. Mr. Long endorsed the bible distribution when he told students “There’s bibles and they are free if you want one.”
How can the Delta School District ignore these violations of their own policy, and even more importantly, why are they failing to acknowledge and remedy them?
Update – 3/23/16 – The Delta County School District only finally acknowledged that the Gideon Bible giveaway in the Delta Middle School library violated of their own policy (pdf) after the school district’s attorney was contacted by a staff attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin. When FFRF asked that the Gideons be banned from further literature distribution in accordance with school policy (which permits revoking literature distribution privileges for policy violators), the school district attorney, Aaron Clay, refused, blaming the violations of policy on school personnel rather than on the Gideons.