School Threatens to Call Police on Person Handing Out Bibles to Elementary Students

An Illinois school district has sent a cease and desist letter to a community member who was handing out Bibles to students on school property and has threatened to call the cops if Bible distribution continues.

At the request of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the La Harpe Community School District has ordered an elementary school principal to stop placing Bible verses on official school correspondence and has also told an unnamed evangelist to stop passing out Bibles on school property.

In May, FFRF sent a letter to Superintendent Ryan Olson to voice two complaints about Christianity being promoted on school grounds in ways that the group claims violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The first complaint involved La Harpe Elementary School Principal Lila McKeown. The principal was accused of using her position to promote her Christian faith through flyers distributed to teachers at staff meetings. The flyers included Bible verses and some were related to holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

One flyer read: "Easter is the celebration of God's greatest gift – salvation through Jesus Christ." Another flyer called for the homes of staff members to be "filled with loving presence of our almighty God."

Secondly, the group accused McKeown of allowing outside adults to distribute Bibles at the school doors. The organization believes that the individuals could be affiliated with Gideons International, an evangelical Christian evangelistic organization.

FFRF requested that the school district take action to stop the practices going on at La Harpe Elementary.

The school district's attorney responded to FFRF's request by stating that McKeown was not aware of the Bible distribution but assured that she will no longer be allowed to place Bible verses in staff communication.

According to Christian conservative columnist Todd Starnes, the school district's attorney explained that it is likely the Bibles were being distributed in the street that splits the school campus in half. The road was previously maintained by the city but has been maintained and owned by the school district since 2013. However, the attorney explained, many community members still think that it is a city road.

In his letter to the school district, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne argued that courts have held that it is unlawful to distribute Bibles to students during instructional time and cited a 1993 Seventh Circuit ruling disallowing Gideons International from distributing Bibles in classrooms.

"Religion is inherently divisive and has no official place in a public school where staff and young students hold varied beliefs — and no belief at all," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. "It's commendable that the district has investigated and remedied these violations."

According to FFRF, the school district sent a "cease and desist" letter to the individual who was responsible for handing out the holy book and said that it would contact the police "should he or any affiliated persons come onto the School District campus for the purpose of distributing Bibles to students."

The school district has reportedly gone as far as to enact a new policy requiring staff members to notify school administration if they see someone handing out Bibles. 

FFRF regularly pressures school districts and local government entities into taking action against any conceivable government entanglement with religion.

Last month, a Kansas high school principal agreed to stop using his platform at graduation ceremonies to encourage graduating students to look to Jesus to find success in life. Great Bend High School by Principal Tim Friess came under fire from FFRF following his remarks at a May 20 graduation ceremony.

Earlier this year, another Illinois school district banned a school principal from inviting parents and community members to the school's flagpole for an annual prayer event. The move by the El Paso-Gridley Community Unit School District No. 11 came after FFRF filed a complaint about the matter.

An Oklahoma school district earlier this year banned a local pastor from praying with a high school football team after FFRF complained.

Some school districts, however, have been less willing to give in to the organization's demands.

Tennessee's Catoosa County School District recently pushed back against an FFRF demand earlier this year that they ban prayer at Ringgold High School's graduation ceremony. The school district responded, stating that it would continue allowing the prayers because the event is planned and led by students.

Also, in January, an Indiana school district refused FFRF's request that it stop a pastor-led lunchtime leadership program for middle and high school students.

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