July/August 2008 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A school board in Louisiana has agreed that it violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing the distribution of Gideon Bibles at a public middle school.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Louisiana on behalf of a girl who was told to pick up her New Testament in front of the school office. The Associated Press reported that “the girl ended up in a line with the entire fifth grade, while two men handed each student a Bible and said, ‘God bless you.’”

“With her classmates and teachers looking on, Jane [pseudonym] accepted the Bible out of a feeling of coercion and fear that she would be criticized, ridiculed and ostracized,” Joe Cook, executive director for the ACLU of Louisiana, wrote in a statement about the lawsuit.

“School officials in Tangipahoa Parish habitually show disdain for the Constitution, while disrespecting the right of parents, who happen to be Catholic in this case, to choose the religious tradition in which to raise their children,” Cook told reporters.

This time, it seems the school was ready to finally admit defeat. After a federal judge ruled in April that the Tangipahoa Parish School Board violated a student plaintiff’s First Amendment rights, the school board agreed to a “consent” judgment, meaning the board will not appeal the ruling.

The school agreed to “refrain from allowing, participating in and/or encouraging the distribution of Bibles, or other religious materials, to elementary school children within the jurisdiction of the Tangipahoa Parish School System, on school property.” (Roe v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board)