Today, the South Iron Elementary School in Annapolis, Missouri, appealed a decision of federal Judge Catherine Perry, who issued a preliminary injunction barring the school from allowing the distribution of Bibles. The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, centered around the Gideons distributing Bibles to fifth graders last year. The Judge's injunction prohibits any distribution of Bibles on school property during the school day. Liberty Counsel is defending the school.
It has long been the practice of the Superintendent to allow many groups to present information to students at District schools and to treat all requests to distribute literature equally. These groups included, among others, the Army Corps of Engineers, Red Cross, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Iron County Health Department, Missouri Water Patrol, Missouri Highland Healthcare, and Union Pacific Railroad. The District had an unwritten open access policy and had not limited access to any particular groups. In accordance with its policy, the District also authorized access to schools by the Gideons, although the Gideons were only allowed to present information during the last hour of the day, which is a study period. After the lawsuit was filed, the District passed a written policy that explicitly treated all requests to distribute literature on equal terms.
Judge Perry issued an injunction, finding that the distribution of Bibles to elementary school students is unconstitutional. When confronted with the fact that the District had passed a policy treating all requests to distribute literature the same, the Judge stated, "Bibles are different. Bibles are religious literature and many Christians believe that they contain the word of God." The Judge described the Bible as an "instrument of religion" that was being passed directly to school children who were impressionable and may feel coerced to accept the Bible.
Erik W. Stanley, Chief Counsel of Liberty Counsel, stated, "The Bible is not a radioactive device that harms children when they are exposed to it. The District in this case has an equal access policy for literature distribution. Singling out the Bible for censorship is patently unconstitutional. We are hopeful that the Eighth Circuit will reverse this unconstitutional injunction and treat the Bible on equal terms with all other literature that is distributed in the District."
Anita L. Staver, President of Liberty Counsel, stated: "We are pleased to defend the actions of the South Iron School District against unfounded attacks by the ACLU. The District is providing equal access. The ACLU might not like the fact that equal access means equal access for religious speech, but equal treatment is required by the Constitution."