Showing posts with label Gideons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gideons. Show all posts

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Gideon checked out, and he left it no doubt

This is my pocket Gideon's Bible that I got in December 1971. In my public school in Louisiana.

Then again, second-hand cigarette smoke was legal -- and pervasive -- back then, too.

ISN'T IT WONDERFUL how very advanced we are today? Now, the long arm of the law can grab a Gideon by the scruff of the neck and shake him until every Bible is loosed and swept out of the reach of susceptible grammar schoolers.

This, reports The (Baton Rouge) Advocate,
is how a federal court intends to bring "progress" to the Christianist holdout of Tangipahoa Parish:
The Tangipahoa Parish School Board violated the First Amendment by allowing Gideons International to pass out pocket Bibles to Loranger fifth-graders during school hours in May, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Just hours after the decision became public, the School Board voted 8-0 to seek an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are somewhat surprised, but very disappointed with the judge’s decision,” board attorney Chris Moody said after the vote.

The decision notches another legal victory for the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which has sued the board seven times over religion-in-schools issues, including the lawsuit that led to this ruling.

Two more suits are pending.

In an 11-page order, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier wrote the practice cited in the lawsuit is unconstitutional under multiple standards of federal case law designed to test whether government and religion are too closely entangled.

The Bible distribution was “ultimately coercive” on an elementary school child, “a religious activity without a secular purpose” and “amounted to promotion of Christianity by the School Board,” Barbier wrote.

His order granted an ACLU motion for summary judgment and rejected one from the board, court records show.


On May 17, the ACLU sued the board on behalf of the unnamed Loranger Middle School fifth-grader and her father.

He was identified only as “John Roe”; the child as “Jane Roe,” records show.

The child and her parents are Roman Catholic. While both Christian, the Roman Catholic and Gideon Bibles have some differences.

Gideons International, which was not a defendant, is “an interdenominational association of Christian business and professional men,” according to its Web site.

Known for distributing free Bibles, the group this year marks its 100th year of placing Bibles in hotel and motel rooms.

The original suit alleges that on May 9, students were allowed to leave class to pick up Bibles from Gideons International representatives in front of the Principal’s Office, but were given the option to stay behind if they did not want one.

Barbier noted Principal Andre Pellerin notified fifth-grade teachers in an e-mail about the Gideons but told them to stress to students “they DO NOT have to get a (B)ible.”

Still, Barbier found the child was pressured to take a Bible, noting the special care courts have recognized schools must take with impressionable elementary schoolchildren.
WHILE I CAN appreciate the "separation of church and state," at what point does slavish devotion to that nebulous principle become a repressive state-mandated quest to separate the vast majority of people in places like Loranger, La., from their faith and from their cultural patrimony? After all, if one cannot be exposed to ideas or culture in a public school, where, pray tell, is education going to be committed?

The Gideons were handing out Bibles at Loranger Middle School, and not even in the classroom at that. No child had to take one.

Yet that is considered "coercive" by the courts. I wonder whether the American Civil Liberties Union and the federal judge would analyze the facts of the case differently if the Gideons had been handing out condoms.

I wonder, too, whether the ruling might have been different if -- as part of a world-geography lesson -- an imam had spoken to a class about Islam and what Muslims believe, then handed out pocket Korans to the children as a gift.

ALMOST 40 YEARS AGO, when I received my first Gideons Bible as a fifth grader at Villa del Rey Elementary in Baton Rouge, it truly was a learning experience for a kid who had only the most tenuous -- not to mention warped -- acquaintance with Christianity as properly understood.

For all intents and purposes, I was being raised as a pagan, though not an intentional pagan. That first Gideons Bible wasn't so much an act of proselytism as it was a broadening of a 10-year-old kid's horizons.

The next year, not only did we get another Gideons New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, but we also got led in daily devotions by our devoutly Baptist sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Horn. What we did was read the Psalms. Out loud. In class.

Times were different then . . . obviously. And I will grant that what Mrs. Horn did was pretty blatantly unconstitutional.

Still, looking back on that political incorrectness run amok -- if only we had known what political incorrectness was in 1972 -- I'm so very happy that my teacher, a prison chaplain's wife, violated my constitutional rights.

Objectively, I learned something important about one of the foundational books of Western civilization. Subjectively, I developed a love for the Psalms.

And on an evangelistic level. those seeds planted by Mrs. Horn would begin to sprout nearly 20 years later, added as they were to the seeds sown via the quiet example of my devoutly Catholic aunt and uncle.

That education stuff, it's a dangerous thing. It takes on many forms, and you never know exactly where you're going to end up once it takes off.

UNLESS, of course, you ideologically scour all the education right out of those places it used to thrive. When our schools become intellectual, cultural and religious wastelands in the guise of some neo-Puritan "constitutional correctness," we know exactly where we -- and our children -- will be going.