A federal judge has ruled a Missouri school district's policy permitting Bible distribution unconstitutional, but an attorney representing the district has vowed to appeal.
The case against the South Iron School District was filed two years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four sets of parents who are Christian. An appeals court ordered the district last August to temporarily halt the handout of Bibles to fifth graders by Gideons International, known for its widespread distribution of the Holy Book in hotels nationwide.
The school district in Annapolis then altered its open access policy, permitting Gideons and other groups – including the Red Cross, Missouri Water Patrol, and Girl Scouts – to give away Bibles or other literature before or after school or during lunch, but not in classrooms.
But U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled Tuesday that both practices violated the Establishment Clause and granted a permanent injunction against any Bible distributors.
In her opinion, she held that both practices are "the promotion of Christianity by distributing Bibles to elementary school students."
"The policy has the principle or primary effect of advancing religion by conveying a message of endorsement to elementary school children," she wrote.
Although Christian, the parents who sued believe religious beliefs should be taught in the home, not school, said Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, according to The Associated Press.
Matthew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group representing the district, said Wednesday he would appeal.
"I think the current policy creates an open forum that allows secular as well as religious persons or groups to access the forum to distribute information," said Staver, according to AP.
In prior reports, the Florida-based group argued that equal treatment for religious speech under the open access policy is required by the Constitution.
"The court has clearly misread the First Amendment and the cases regarding free speech," added Staver.
The ACLU lawsuit against the southeastern Missouri school district represents one of many legal challenges the group has pursued against Bible distribution by Gideons in recent years.
Last November, a Florida federal judge upheld the constitutional rights of a member of Gideons International, allowing him to resume passing out Bibles on a public sidewalk outside a school until his case is resolved.
"It is in the public interest to protect constitutional freedoms," wrote U.S. District Court judge K. Michael Moore in the written ruling.
Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund is representing Thomas Gray of Gideons Key Largo Camp in the latest case.