St. Louis, MO - This morning the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument involving Gideon Bible distribution in public schools. In Doe v. South Iron R-1 School District, federal district Judge Catherine Perry issued a preliminary injunction barring the school from allowing any outside group to offer Bibles to willing students at any time on school property, including noninstructional time. Liberty Counsel represents the District in Annapolis, Missouri, and has appealed the injunction, arguing the injunction is unconstitutional because it requires the District to discriminate only against a particular religious message - the Bible.
The South Iron R-1 School District has had a long-standing open access policy that allows many groups to present literature and information to students at District schools. The many diverse groups include the Army Corps of Engineers, Red Cross, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Iron County Health Department, Missouri Water Patrol, Missouri Highland Healthcare, and Union Pacific Railroad. In 2006, the District passed a written policy setting forth its long-standing open access policy. This policy confirms the District's intent to create a limited public forum during noninstructional time outside of the classroom.
The ACLU filed suit, seeking to prohibit the Gideons from distributing Bibles under the policy. Judge Perry issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the distribution of the Bible, which she described as an "instrument of religion." Judge Perry also ruled the open access policy unconstitutional under a novel (and unconstitutional) theory that it must allow a private third party the opportunity to veto the distribution request of the private applicant.
Erik W. Stanley, Chief Counsel of Liberty Counsel, stated, "There is no violation of the Establishment Clause when a school creates a neutral policy and allows a wide variety of groups to give literature to students. Singling out the Bible for censorship is patently unconstitutional."
The First Amendment provides that community groups must receive equal treatment under an open access policy. The Bible is not a radioactive device that harms children. Religious viewpoints are clearly protected. The ACLU might not like the fact that equal access means equal access for religious speech, but equal treatment is required by the Constitution.