The decision from the Elsberry School District came this week after a parent called the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to complain about students returning home with Bibles. The Gideons had been allowed to make a presentation to fifth-graders and later passed out Bibles to students who asked for them.
The Ida Cannon Middle School principal later issued a statement saying the district, located north of St. Louis, would not allow such presentations.
“From this day forward, the Gideons will not be allowed to come into the school during the school day to speak with kids about their group,” Principal Kenny Youmans wrote. “The Gideons also are going to be prohibited from handing out religious materials to kids during the school day.”
Officials with the Gideons could not be reached for comment.
The parent who complained did not want his name revealed. He said his child returned home from school on Sept. 23 with a New Testament from the Gideons. The father was upset because he believed it violated the separation of church and state.
Gideons International, based in Nashville, Tenn., places Bibles in hotels and prisons and has distributed them at colleges and elementary schools and to members of the military. Throughout the country, schools have questioned and sometimes prohibited the distribution of Bibles to students.
Some experts have said court decisions generally would allow religious groups to distribute documents in public areas outside a school but not inside it.
Denise Lieberman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said even leaving Bibles in an area of school so children can pick them up if they want to doesn’t meet legal standards.
“Students are required to go to school and have no choice in the matter and shouldn’t be forced to be exposed to religious presentations,” she said.
Conrad Cheatham, pastor of Elsberry Associate Reform Presbyterian and Mount Zion Associate Reform Presbyterian churches, said he believed the Gideons should have the right to distribute Bibles.
“I think the First Amendment gives them the right to distribute Scripture,” he said. “Separation of church and state has been badly misconstrued.”