The Duncan Public School district in Oklahoma announced that it will prohibit distribution of Bibles and other religious materials in response to an atheist organization’s threat of legal action after a teacher passed out bibles in her class.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) first heard about what happened in the school after receiving a phone call from a parent.
Erica Mackey, a third grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, reportedly told her students that she had copies of the Gideon New Testament and asked if anyone was interested in them. Nearly all of her students came to her desk to get a copy.
The AHA quickly sent a letter to the principal of the school and the superintendent of the school district, claiming a breach of the Establishment Clause and that Mackey had wrongfully attempted to influence her young students.
“The school’s actions in assisting the Gideons in distributing Bibles to elementary students represents a clear breach of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and we hereby demand assurances that this practice will discontinue immediately,” the letter reads. “…Elementary students are vastly more impressionable than high school students and are more likely to perceive the school’s actions as an endorsement of religion.”
The school district sent a response letter to the AHA, assuring the group that the distribution of Bibles to students would stop immediately. After the letter was released, the AHA decided not to pursue legal action against the school district.
“All teachers and administrators in the district are being advised that they are not permitted to distribute Bibles or other religious materials to students in class or during class time,” wrote Scott W. Stone, legal counsel for the district.
However, many parents, local residents and students vocally defended Mackey and supported her actions.
Candice Barnes-Padilla, a mother of a Woodrow Wilson Elementary student, didn’t think Mackey had done anything wrong by offering the Bibles, because Mackey’s students had the free will to decide whether or not they wanted them.
“I hope that Duncan Public Schools can stand behind this teacher,” said Barnes-Padilla. “Apparently, they need more teachers like that in our area and our school system.”
Legal Director David Niose of the AHA stated that the organization was concerned that students might have felt peer-pressured into accepting the Bibles.
"One element of religious freedom is that families and children should be able to follow the religious traditions that they want to,” said Niose. “They shouldn't have religion pushed on them."
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