Bibles in schools should raise alarms
RE: Gideons ask local students: ‘Would you like a free Bible?’ (SDN, May 24) I suspect that many around here can do without the meddling opinions of visitors, but c’mon folks, I live in Nashville, and even there in the buckle of the bible belt, the people who run our public schools are smart enough to know not to allow distribution of bibles inside middle schools and high schools.Your news story about this indicates that Summit County attorneys are treating the schools as a “limited public forum.” That’s a term in constitutional law describing public property that is not fully open to public speech at any time (like a sidewalk might be), but rather open only at certain times to some types of expressive activity, as determined by government officials. When allowing outside groups to “speak” inside the school during the school day, the law says that officials can create restrictions that are reasonably related to the forum’s purpose – as long as the restrictions are “viewpoint neutral” – not preferring any one view (religious or otherwise) over another.It borders on absurd for the school superintendent to suggest, as she does in your story, that keeing out Bible distribution would force the schools to disallow distribution of college recruiting materials or dictionaries. This is precisely the sort of call involving expression that is relevant to the purpose of the forum (education, presumably) that the law permits school officials to make. Summit County residents should be alarmed at the prospect of difficulties related to viewpoint neutrality. The school system, by allowing the Gideons to hand out literature, will have to allow virtually any other religious group to do likewise. At some point, when the school system rebuffs some group wanting to promote some fringe or whacky set of beliefs, the group will sue the district in federal court for a First Amendment violation (viewpoint neutrality or the establishment clause, take your pick), probably win, and be awarded hefty legal fees – payable by the nice taxpayers of Summit County – to cover the costs of correcting this preventable error.I’m guessing this is not the kind of expenditure most residents have in mind when they fund public schools. Your school administrators and attorneys are leading you down a treacherous path – one that also happens to teach your kids a terribly flawed civics lesson about the relationship between church and state in this country.
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