AUSTIN, TX - The ACLU of Texas has published a report detailing the results of its recent investigation into legal and policy violations in Texas school districts where The Gideons International distributed Bibles during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years.
The investigation was launched in May in response to numerous complaints from parents and concerned citizens about the activities of The Gideons International, an evangelical organization that regularly distributes Bibles to public school students as young as fifth grade.
School districts have a legal obligation to "prevent religious coercion by outside groups" and should provide "adequate training to all staff to insure that no group gets preferential treatment," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. "Unfortunately, our investigation shows that some school districts have failed to adopt or enforce appropriate policies, leading to disruptive incidents on school campuses and potential constitutional violations."
According to the report, in one district, students used the Bibles as projectiles and as props to harass Jewish classmates. Christian students were upset by the defacement of their sacred text, and parents complained about students being coerced into taking the Bibles.
"The Gideons appear to take advantage of lax enforcement, and to exploit school administrators' confusion on how to protect both free speech and religious liberty," noted Fleming Terrell, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Texas and author of the report. "'To minimize liability and maximize the learning environment for all students, districts that choose to allow the distribution of religious literature on campus must implement clear policies and aggressively enforce them. The types of disruption and harassment we found in this investigation are not good for any student."
The findings are based on information obtained through open records requests to 10 school districts around the state. See the attached complete report for details about the following school districts: Baird, Frisco, Plano and Westwood or go to www.aclutx.org.
The ACLU of Texas distributed the report to the school districts, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Association of School Boards. The report also outlines steps that school administrators and community members can take to protect religious liberties in schools.
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