published Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

ACLU issues warning on Bible distribution in Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The American Civil Liberties Union has sent a letter to superintendents in Kentucky advising them to start following federal guidelines on distributing Bibles at public schools.

The Aug. 19 letter from ACLU attorney William Sharp says districts that don't abide by the guidelines will face a court challenge.

He said Gideons International has handed out Bibles in elementary schools as recently as last year despite past warnings from the ACLU.

"Kentucky's public school officials have, at best, suffered from inconsistent adherence to clearly established First Amendment limits upon government endorsement of religion in the classroom," Sharp wrote.

Sharp told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the intent of the letter was to encourage districts to follow federal guidelines and stay out of court.

"Our previous attempts did not have the desired effect, so we decided to put the applicable law in writing and send it to all the superintendents," he told the newspaper in an interview.

Sharp said the Constitution prohibits government entities from favoring one religion over another, so schools that allow the Bible to be distributed must also allow other religious groups to give literature.

ACLU Executive Director Michael Aldridge said the organization investigated and found that Gideons International had "exploited district's lack of a centralized decision-maker for these types of requests by specifically instructing its members to seek approval for their in-school Bible distribution efforts at the lowest level of authority."

Jeff Pack, a spokesman for Gideons International in Nashville, Tenn., said the group has a policy to go to the school board and "follow whatever direction they give us. We always go through the school board."

Logan County Superintendent Marshall Kemp says Gideons have handed out Bibles there in the past, but probably won't be allowed to do so anymore.

"Schools are not supposed to support one religion over another and I understand that, but in the past it was a resource for students who wanted them," he said.

Kemp said there's never been a request from another religious group to distribute materials.

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