By Simon Brown
Public schools in Buncombe County, N.C., are considering a policy that would permit religious groups to drop off literature for students to read at their leisure.
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times,the policy would allow a variety of organizations, including religious ones, to place materials at the school for “passive distribution” one day per school year.
The proposal comes in reaction to an incident last year in which The Gideons International were permitted to deliver Bibles to the North Windy Ridge Elementary School, while a parent of a student at the school who wished to make Pagan literature available was not permitted to do so.
If the policy is given final approval, it would require the superintendent or his designee to act as filter because all groups would need permission before offering materials. According to the Citizen-Times, the policy would ban commercial literature or similar items unless they are “properly approved school or school system promotions or are contained in school-sponsored publications.”
Earlier this month, the Buncombe County School Board unanimously passed a policy that the district will “neither advance nor inhibit any religion or religious belief, viewpoint, expression or practice.”
But given that one local school already caused a messy situation by allowing some literature to be distributed and not others, is this policy practical or fair?
One local pastor is wary.
“Inevitably, it will put school officials in a position of evaluating and judging the truth or appropriateness of the content of religious materials,” Guy Sayles, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Asheville, said, according to the Citizen-Times. “That role is not one public officials should play.”
The policy might also open schools to expensive and needless lawsuits.
“It will result in endless rounds of scrutiny, debate, protest and likely legal action,” Sayles said. “I do not see how such a policy is practically workable, and I strongly object to it.”
Other community members who are following this situation have rightly raised church-state issues.
“Our schools must be our sanctuary, and, if they are not, we will have violated the very foundation of our freedom and our liberty,” Rabbi Rob Cabelli, of Congregation Beth Israel, said, according to the Citizen-Times.
This seems like a classic example of a solution in search of a problem. North Windy Ridge Elementary School screwed up when it allowed Bible distribution, and then it screwed up again when it denied the distribution of other literature.
Can we really expect that future incidents of favoritism in distribution would not occur? What would happen if a Muslim group tried to drop off Korans, or Hindus left the Bhagavad Gita? Would local residents and the school board be open to letting impressionable minds read literature from minority faiths or anti-religion groups?
There is absolutely no need to allow outside organizations to engage in “passive distribution” of materials at public schools, plus one would like to think that the school board has better things to do with its time than deciding whether or not a copy of the Satanic Bible is appropriate for students.
Students are welcome to read whatever they want on their own time, and most religious organizations are more than happy to send their literature to anyone who requests it. Getting religious materials into student hands is simply not a void that public schools should fill.