Appeal Court Hears Bible Distribution Case
(CNSNews.com) - The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday heard arguments in a case that will decide whether a leading Bible distribution group will be allowed to hand out the religious texts at public schools.
The Gideons International, the 108-year-old missionary organization best known for its Bible distribution program, passed out Bibles to students in the South Iron R-1 School District in Missouri under the district's policy allowing the open distribution of non-educational material.
But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit, prompting District Judge Catherine Perry to issue a preliminary injunction last September halting the Bible distribution.
Liberty Counsel, a Christian litigation group, has appealed the decision, arguing that the injunction is unconstitutional because it singles out one religious text for exclusion.
"The First Amendment clearly provides that community groups must receive equal treatment," Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mathew Staver said. "The ACLU may not like the fact that an equal access policy gives equal access for religious speech, even the Bible, but in fact, it requires equal treatment.
"The Bible must be permitted because these other pieces [literature from organizations including the Red Cross and Boy and Girl Scouts] are also permitted, and to ban the Bible is clearly an unconstitutional viewpoint based discrimination," Staver told Cybercast News Service Thursday.
A spokesman for the ACLU's branch in Eastern Missouri, which is handling the case, did not respond to requests for comment.
ACLU Eastern Missouri Executive Director Brenda Jones argues the case is in fact about protecting religious liberty."Religious liberty is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights," she said in an earlier statement. "And religious liberty is best protected by keeping the government out of the realm of religions."The case is not the only clash between the ACLU and the Gideons. In December of 2006, the Arkansas branch of the civil liberties group criticized a school district for permitting distribution of Bibles to students on school property.
"The First Amendment prohibits the government from putting children in the difficult position of deciding whether to accept or reject such religious materials offered to them at school," Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Rachel Sklar said in a letter to the school's superintendent.
"Distributing on school grounds religious materials designed to proselytize or convert violates the Establishment Clause value of official religious neutrality," she said.
In 1993, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Gideons in a similar case, ruling that "the First Amendment prohibits the government from putting children in this difficult position."