[JURIST] A federal judge has ruled [PDF text] that a school district in Louisiana must stop allowing the distribution of Bibles in schools, saying that the distribution is "a religious activity without a secular purpose" in violation of the First Amendment. The Tangipahoa Parish School System [official website] allowed The Gideons International to visit one of the district's schools to distribute Bibles in May 2007. The Bibles were not distributed in classrooms and students were not required to take a Bible, but US District Judge Carl J. Barbier ruled Tuesday that:
this Court determines that the distribution of Bibles was ultimately coercive as Jane was pressured to accept a Bible in violation of Lee; that distribution of Bibles is a religious activity without a secular purpose in violation of Lemon; and that the distribution by the Gideons amounted to promotion of Christianity by the School Board in violation of County of Allegheny. As a result, the distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary school children at Loranger Middle School violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, specifically, the Establishment Clause.The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the family of a fifth grade student, welcomed the ruling [press release], noting that "We couldn't find a single case from any court in this country holding that Bible distribution to grade school students is constitutionally permissible." A lawyer representing the school board indicated that he expected an appeal to be filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, though he told AP that he had not yet consulted with the board on a possible appeal. AP has more.
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Missouri issued a similar ruling [JURIST report], finding that the distribution of Bibles at elementary schools by religious organizations is unconstitutional.