Bledsoe County school officials in Tennessee have ended the practice of allowing Gideons to distribute Bibles to students on the campus of public schools. After receiving a complaint regarding church-state concerns, Superintendent Jennifer Terry instituted a new policy.
Associated Press reports:
Terry wouldn’t elaborate on the complaint’s details. By law, public schools cannot impose or promote religion.
“The distribution of religious materials in a public school is in violation of constitutional provisions and well-established federal and state laws and precedence,” Terry said.
Students of course remain free to bring their own Bibles to school, as they can any outside reading, for use during non-instructional or other free time. But the new rule seeks to address the potential for religious coercion and the appearance of school endorsement of religious organizations or materials.
School officials walk an increasingly fine line in managing these concerns. They must respect the religious liberty of their students by avoiding church-state entanglements while avoiding the appearance of discriminating against religious speech if they permit non-religious groups to distribute materials. Courts should allow officials some room to maneuver here between the Establishment and the Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment. Avoiding the religious coercion of a captive student audience is an important and worthy goal.