ST. LOUIS (CN) – The 8th Circuit upheld a ban on a Missouri elementary school’s 30-year practice of allowing Gideons to hand out Bibles to fifth graders in the classroom. The school board had been warned by several lawyers, including the school district’s own attorney, that the Bible distribution violated the Constitution.
But the board voted in 2005 “to pretend this meeting never happened, and to continue to allow the Gideons to distribute Bibles as we have done in the past.”
A few months later, the board resolved to continue allowing the distribution, despite letters from the ACLU, the district’s attorney and the district’s insurer, all urging the school to drop the practice.
A group of parents sued in 2006, claiming the Bible handouts promoted Christianity in violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause. They demanded an injunction.
Ten days before the injunction hearing, the board adopted a new policy requiring the superintendent’s approval of all literature distributed in the school. The policy stated that all requests “shall be approved” unless the literature is libelous, obscene, promotional, illegal or disruptive.
The district court permanently barred the school from allowing Bible distribution during the school day and went a step further, declaring the school district’s actions unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit upheld the injunction, but rejected the lower court’s declaratory judgment order, calling it “superfluous” and “hopelessly obscure.”
The permanent injunction eliminates the risk that the school board would approve a Bible distribution request, Chief Judge Loken noted, adding, “What more is needed?”