Students at a public high school in Mississippi handed out Bibles to their classmates on Thursday after school officials had previously prevented the Christian student group from doing so last month.
On the day before Good Friday, student members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Stone County High School distributed Bibles to their classmates from a table in the school's lunchroom during non-instructional time Thursday.
The peer-to-peer distribution comes after the FCA had previously ordered Bibles and planned to distribute them to their classmates on March 27 but school staff postponed the group's event after a school employee questioned the legality of students being able to share the Gospel with peers during school hours.
In response, the Liberty Counsel, a law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom, sent a letter to Stone County Public Schools Superintendent Inita Owen, telling her that the First Amendment protects the rights of students to evangelize other students.
According to the letter, school staff shared a memo from the website FindLaw.com regarding "Bible Distribution in the Public Schools" in an attempt to prove that the students could only distribute Bibles by leaving them for other students to take at unnamed tables.
In the letter, Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver asserted that the memo only applies to outside organizations seeking to distribute Bibles in school and does not apply to student clubs.
"Regardless of any law relating to the Gideons or outside groups, neither the 'FindLaw' memo nor Peck v. Upshur are applicable to the speech activities of student groups, student clubs, and individual students," Staver wrote in the letter. "Students and student clubs retain their right to undertake club activities on public school campuses, and may personally distribute Bibles to other willing students, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, during non-instructional time."
"I understand the District permits other student clubs, including Key Club and HOSA, to promote their clubs by various means," he continued. "The FCA wishes to be treated the same as other student clubs ...'"
Staver's letter informed Owen that Liberty Counsel would represent the school district in court at no cost to taxpayers if it is challenged legally for allowing the FCA to distribute Bibles.
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"The District may be confident that it is on solid legal footing in permitting student-led Bible distribution during non-instructional time," he added.
Staver told The Christian Post on Wednesday that about a week after he had sent his letter, the school district sent a response indicating that they would allow the students to hand out the Bibles during non-instructional time.
"It's different for students who have a right to be on campus versus people that are not students that don't have a right to be on campus and come from the community to the campus. It is a big difference between the two," Staver said. "To their credit, when they realized the difference, that is when the school board reversed course and granted the request."
Staver told CP that schools that often infringe upon students' First Amendment rights and prevent them from sharing the Gospel often do so out of "fear" and "ignorance."
"Sometimes, they will get a letter from groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation that misrepresent the law and do so intentionally and threaten to sue the school districts," he explained. "On one hand, there is no reason for them to be ignorant about the law."
"Unfortunately, there is a lot of change in school administrations. They don't keep up with the law. They get information that is wrong. Sometimes, they are afraid of a lawsuit and other times they have a desire to censor Christian viewpoints," he added. "Either way, the results are the same — Christian viewpoints are censored. That is why we provide education to resolve the matter. And if that doesn't work, we use litigation to solve the matter. In this case, it was just education and the school did the right thing."