In the case of the ACLU against the Gideons in South Iron, Judge Catherine Perry in December of 2008 issued an order specifically prohibiting distribution of the Bible, and the Bible alone, after calling it an “instrument of religion.”
She said the district’s neutral treatment of literature is unacceptable, because it would allow the distribution of the Bible. Matthew Staver argued the case before the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on behalf of the school district. The judge said veto power must be provided to veto religious, but not secular, literature.
According to Staver, Perry’s ruling legislated that a “private third party (like the ACLU)” had the right to veto the distribution request of the private applicant (in this case, the Gideons).
Staver said the Constitution simply doesn’t allow the Bible to be singled out, like contraband, for special penalties.
How ironic [Staver said] that in America, until recent times, the Bible formed the basis of education, and now its mere presence is radioactive in the opinion of some judges,” he said. “The founders never envisioned such open hostility toward the Christian religion as we see today in some venues. To single out the Bible alone for discriminatory treatment harkens back to the Dark Ages. America deserves better. Our Constitution should be respected, not disregarded. The Quran is OK, and other kinds of religious texts; just not the Bible. The Bible alone is impermissible in the public school,” he said.
Now, the decision has been overturned. This is good news if you believe free speech should not be limited by absolutist ideology.
On July 16, 2009, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the South Iron School District and upheld the right of the district to establish an open forum for distribution of materials on school property. Under the policy, secular and religious material can be distributed by any group, including the Gideons.
Matt Staver of the Liberty Council sums it up:
“Well, the court ultimately reversed that. Now this new equal access policy will go into effect,” he explains. “Under this policy, individuals may apply to distribute secular or religious literature on school grounds during school time. It’s not going to be distributed in the classroom, but it’s certainly available for students who willingly want to receive the literature.”
I predict the ACLU will keep pushing the issue on the taxpayer’s dime to the next level. The question remains: where do we draw the line between free expression and the concept of separation of church and state?
When speech is stifled in the name of protecting it, something is wrong.