In response to our post last Friday about the Benton School District allowing the Gideons to visit fifth graders and talk about their work and leave Bibles behind, a blog reader sends along the ruling in a 1973 case in which U.S. District Judge Oren Harris ruled that the Cross County School District, in allowing the Gideons to visit the fifth grade, had violated the First Amendment by promoting religion in school.
We repeat -- 1973.
From the opinion:
The fact that someone from the Gideon Society visits each of the elementary schools in the School District annually and presents the Gideon Bible to each student of the fifth grade class is of some significance. The Court has already determined that the Bible is an instrument of religion. The fact that it only contains the King James Version of the New Testament, Book of Psalms, and the Book of Proverbs, does not change the religious character of the Gideon's presentation to fifth grade students. The fact that a student is not required to accept the presentation is of no significance. ...
The practice, therefore, as approved by the School Board and permitted by the school authorities of distributing the Gideon Bible by a representative of the Society to the fifth grade students in the elementary schools of the Cross County School District is an exercise of religious character which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Maybe this well help school officials who claim not to understand why setting aside time to talk with evangelicals:
It has been argued that to apply the Constitution in such a way as to prohibit the practices respecting the establishing of religious services in public schools is tantamount to hostility of the Government to religion or toward prayer. The Supreme Court has consistently struck down such contention. Nothing, of course, could be more wrong. A manifestation of such hostility would be at war with our national declaration as embodied in the First Amendment guaranty of the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aim if each is left free from the other within its respective spheres.
Read the full ruling here. Blog fans and Arkansas school officials, too.