Injunction upheld in southern Missouri school Bibles case

Thursday, July 16, 2009 | 8:12 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a ruling that prohibits the distribution of Bibles to grade schoolers in a rural southern Missouri district.

But both sides saw the ruling as a victory. An attorney representing the South Iron School District in Annapolis said the decision allows a new policy to finally be implemented, one that allows any group to hand out literature at the rural district, including information on how kids can obtain Bibles.

For more than three decades, the district about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis allowed representatives from Gideons International to give away Bibles in fifth-grade classrooms. Concerns were raised in 2005 by former Superintendent Homer Lewis, but the school board voted 4-3 to continue the practice.

Lewis resigned, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of four sets of parents. Last year, a federal judge in St. Louis granted a permanent injunction against the Bible giveaways. The 8th Circuit ruling upheld that injunction.

No Bibles have been distributed in the school district since 2005.

"At every step of this case, the court recognized that public schools cannot become religious recruiting grounds," said Anthony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU office in St. Louis.

But Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based law group that represented the South Iron district, said the court ruling was a victory for the district because it failed to overturn a new policy adopted since the court case began.

Under that policy, any group can apply to hand out literature at the school, but not in classrooms. That means groups can provide information on obtaining Bibles and hand them out on school grounds, but after school hours, Staver said.

"The new policy can go forward and create a limited public forum where both secular and religious literature can be made available to students who want to receive it," Staver said.

The South Iron district has about 500 students and two schools, the grade school and South Iron High School. Phone calls to Superintendent Don Wakefield and school board president Paul Daggett were not answered.

Gideons International, based in Nashville, Tenn., distributes Bibles in more than 80 languages and 180 countries, according to the organization's Web site.


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