A school district in southern Michigan is stopping a longstanding practice of allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles in the hallways of its elementary school after a parent complained to the district's superintendent.
Jonesville Community Schools will no longer allow Bibles to be made accessible at a table in Williams Elementary School.
Superintendent Mike Potts told The Christian Post on Tuesday that the district is not taking a stand on whether Bibles are right or wrong but simply following regulations as a government agency.
"We cannot condone the passing any literature of that nature regardless of who's passing it out," said Potts.
For many years, the Gideons had been allowed to set up a table in the school hallway and allow students to pick up the Bibles, according to Potts. The latest distribution occurred on Wednesday and by Friday, Potts had made the decision to end the practice after consulting with the district's attorney.
The next time the Gideons want to distribute Bibles it has to be on the sidewalk or outside of school grounds, according to Potts.
Kristen Finnegan had raised concerns over the practice in a letter to Potts about the Bible distribution after she said her daughter received a Bible during school hours. Potts said this was the first complaint he had received over the issue.
"Had I been aware of the practice it would have stopped sooner," Potts said.
The superintendent added that the decision does not mean Bibles are banned from the school and does not deter any individual students from distributing Bibles.
Kevin Theriot, an attorney with Alliance Defense Fund, said Potts' response would be constitutional only if no other groups were allowed to distribute material at the school. He said Bible distribution outside the school is constitutional.
"Certainly distributing Bibles on the sidewalk or outside of the school is protected speech. They cannot discriminate against the distribution of the Bible because it's religious," Theriot told The Christian Post.
Allowing Bibles to be distributed at the school is not necessarily unconstitutional if other groups were allowed the same access, Theriot explained, citing the court opinion in Peck v. Upshur County Board of Education. The court had allowed the Gideons International to distribute Bibles at Upshur County public schools in West Virginia since the school had a neutral policy, allowing religious and nonreligious alike, including Little League, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union, to distribute literature in the school.
Potts, who is also superintendent of Reading Community Schools, said both districts will continue offering a program that allows students to attend an off-campus Bible instruction program for one hour each month.
Under a program offered by Rural Bible Ministries, students at Williams Elementary School are given the option of attending a Bible program at Friendship Baptist Church and those at Reynolds Elementary Schools can opt to go to Church of the Nazarene. Potts said parents are allowed to authorize their children to be released from school and receive religious instruction under Michigan's "released time" law.
He said none of the school's resources are committed toward the program.