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Austin Cline

North Carolina School Invites Gideons, Free Bibles

By April 12, 2006

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The school board in Brunswick County, North Carolina, has voted to invite the Gideons into public schools to distribute free Bibles. Supporters think that this is necessary for the sake of Christians' freedom. Critics point out that it's wrong to give Christianity special support and privileges like this. To count as even vaguely legal, they'll have to do the same with any group that requests it.

WWAY TV reports:

The Christian group requested the privilege in a letter to the school board, and Vice Chairman Shirley Babson voted in their favor. “I just believe that we do live in a free country, and that means Christians are free too,” Babson said. “I’m very concerned about the moral decline of our country, and I believe it comes on not basing our ethics and morals on what the Bible says.”

Parent Phyllis Blanks said, “I see a lot of things going on, and I think the Bibles would be a great help, because they moved God out of the schools. What you see in these schools now, it’s scary.”

It’s nice that this report notices — and makes it clear — that we are talking about a special privilege. Someone should tell Shirley Babson how to better handle the media, though, because by stating that her concern is with a failure of people to base their ethics on her personal religious beliefs and scriptures, and thus that her interest is in promoting her religious beliefs among public school students, she essentially gives the game away.

This is not within the scope of public schools’ proper authority — once you admit that you are promoting particular religions, religious beliefs, or religious scriptures, you admit that what you are doing is illegal. Shirley Babson has virtually ensured that she is unfit for public office, because anyone who deliberately violates the basic constitutional protections of students’ religious liberties has no business having anything to do with public schools anymore.

Board Chairman Scott Milligan voted “no.”

“Once you open that door for distribution of materials, it’s all or none,” Milligan said. Milligan thinks allowing the Christian literature in the schools is short-sighted. He warns the board will not be allowed to discriminate among other groups like Muslims, Mormons and atheists.

It’s not clear, but it sounds like Milligan believes that admitting Muslims, Mormons, and atheists on the same basis as evangelical Christians would be a bad thing. That’s a bigoted position, which wouldn’t say much for Scott Milligan’s character if that’s the case, but sometimes the only way to get people to do the right thing is to rely on their bigotry.

In this case, Mulligan is absolutely correct that permitting evangelical Christians to distribute material in public schools means that they can’t keep out other groups, religious or otherwise. Some people will be opposed to schemes like this on principle because they recognize that it’s wrong for the government to favor or privilege any religion. Others will only oppose schemes like this because they know that they can’t keep out other groups which they despise — if that’s the only way to get them to do the right thing, then that’s what we’ll have to use.

So, while this policy is being challenged (and a legal challenge is bound to come), someone should apply to the school board to distribute material on atheism, secular humanism, Wicca, Raelians, or whatever. The school board will be horrified, then they will stall, but eventually they’ll be forced to take up the issue publicly and either they’ll let it in (in which case they’ll loose significant electoral support) or they will keep it out, in which case they’ll have to contend with another legal challenge — more several more legal challenges, depending upon how many groups apply.


Quick Poll: Should Christians groups be allowed to distribute free Bibles in public schools?

  1. Yes, and only Christians should be allowed to do it.
  2. Yes, and all groups should have the same freedom.
  3. No, schools should be getting involved with this sort of thing - with any group.
  4. I don't know.
  5. I don't care.
Click an option to vote, or View Current Poll Results


Religion in Public Schools:


Christian & Religious Privilege:


I’d like your permission to run this in my ‘zine. Perhaps this law SHOULD be tested in NC, and I know some gutsy Pagans who would be possibly willing to give away free pentagrams or such.

Perhaps along with copies of “The Crucible” or history of the Salem trials. What do you think?

April 13, 2006 at 9:45 pm

Republishing this material elsewhere isn’t my decision – The New York Times has to approve all reprints and you have to use this form. Sorry about that. In the long run, it might simply be easier to print a short quote and a link.

If pagans are looking to test the school’s policy, some sort of introductory book about Wicca and paganism would probably be best – a “what is wicca” or “so you’re interested in learning more about paganism” type of thing. A book that presents Wicca and paganism in a positive, or at least neutral, light will be the sort of book that tests the limits of this policy. Why? Because the people in question don’t want kids to think that Wicca is an option that is equally as valid as any other option out there. For them, neutrality and fairness are unacceptable.

April 14, 2006 at 8:36 am
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