Friday, April 17, 2015

Attorney General Defends Bible Distribution at Oklahoma Public Schools

Last week, the Duncan Public School system in the state of Oklahoma announced that its employees will no longer be permitted to distribute bibles to students after an atheist group, the Appigani Humanist Legal Center, threated to take legal action.  The Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt (pictured here), sent a letter in response to this announcement to public school superintendents throughout the state, vowing to defend religious freedom “amid veiled legal threats over the distribution of Bibles on campus”.

An attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation stated that the organization wrote to 26 Oklahoma school districts in February 2015 after receiving complaints about an individual who had been working with Gideons International to distribute bibles to public school students.  Gideons International is a Christian organization whose primary purpose is to distribute free copies of the Bible.  This event has caused the Attorney General’s office to look into the contact between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Oklahoma school districts, further leading to legal training on religious freedom to be developed for public school officials.

     Throughout the course of the semester, we have discussed defending the religious freedoms of numerous minority religions, but now the Attorney General has turned the conversation to the majority, Christians.  Though I understand what Priutt means when he says that he does not want the citizens of Oklahoma to “fear that their government has become hostile to religion”, I think that an establishment of religion and a clear violation of the First Amendment should be the major concern for Oklahoma.

Because the children can and, according to this article, do feel pressured to accept the Bible when it is handed out to them, I do not think that there is any place in the public school system for Bibles to be distributed through any mechanism, whether it is through teachers or by displaying them on tables.  Though teachers were told not to pressure students to take the bibles, because we are dealing with children and people in authority, there is an understanding that children would feel pressured if their teacher was offering them something.  The atheist group did not feel that it was an issue for teachers to distribute or offer bibles to students in secondary school, but I disagree with this.  Any student in any public school, regardless of age, should not be subjected to the distribution of bibles.

If a teacher who promoted a minority religion or no religion at all, there would have been an uproar from parents throughout the district.  If a teacher in one of these school districts had instead decided to give students a copy of the Quran, for instance, it is likely that this practice would have been stopped immediately.  I would also presume that the Attorney General would not actively promote the distribution of minority religious material or atheist material in schools throughout the state.

To me, by the Attorney General defending the Bible distribution in public schools, it appears that he is endorsing Christianity.  If teachers were to continue this practice, the consequence would be an environment that is hostile to non-Christians.

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