Here is the Superintendent's unedited response:
In previous years Gideon's were allowed into the schools to distribute Bibles to 5th grade students who wanted one. This was found to be a violation so in October the board announced that this would no longer be allowed. However the board requested I research any way in which non profit organizations could be legally allowed to distribute literature to students and or parents.
There is no policy related to the May motion. The board voted to allow non profit organizations to be allowed in school during open houses and after school events such as family reading night. If an organization request an opportunity to distribute literature, this is the time designated by the board that it would be allowed and would not disrupt instructional time.
I hope this helps answer questions you have about the board action.
I wasn't surprised that the new policy remains unwritten, unannounced, and vague--despite the fact that Board of Education member Don Richey had mentioned this week's back-to-school open houses as one of the "designated times" when the Gideons and other groups would be able to distribute materials.
This morning I sent the Superintendent a letter outlining what I see as the obvious problems with the district's new policy.
Dear Mr. Todd:I appreciate your response regarding the distribution of materials in Muhlenberg County Schools by the Gideons International and other organizations. I am now clear that there is no written, official policy on the matter; rather, there is an unofficial, unwritten policy that the Gideons and other nonprofit organizations may now request in advance permission to distribute materials at school open houses, reading nights, and other unspecified after-school events.
The purpose of this letter is to encourage you and the Board of Education not to implement this new policy, and to keep not only instructional time, but all school events, entirely free of proselytizing by religious groups.
I believe that the new policy as described to me by both you and Board member Don Richey is constitutionally problematic in several ways:
· The policy is not set in writing, and is vague; therefore, it could be viewed as too easily subject to alteration in order to accommodate organizations that reflect the personal values of the Board’s members, or to exclude groups that do not align with the Board members’ personal values.
· The policy has not been announced in the local newspapers, on the Muhlenberg County School District web site, or anywhere else where the public might reasonably learn of it, or where nonprofit organizations other than the Gideons might learn of the opportunities it affords them to distribute material.
· The policy as described by you and Mr. Richey does not have any discernible secular purpose, as per the first prong of the Lemon test (see Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 1971). Indeed, the Board’s unanimous approval at the May 14 Board Meeting of a motion to “approve plans for collaboration and efforts to support the Gideon’s organization,” the fact that the new policy remains unwritten and unannounced, and your own previous statements to local newspapers about the Board abandoning its previous policy only at the urging of the attorney for the school district, could together be interpreted by the courts as evidence that the new policy is not sincere, but rather a sham policy designed to allow the district to continue endorsing a specific religious message (see Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 2000) by providing the Gideons access to local schoolchildren.
Furthermore, the new policy may be incredibly controversial and/or divisive. In order to implement the new policy, the Board of Education will place itself in the position of having to allow nonprofit organizations whose missions and literature are likely to be deemed offensive by many Muhlenberg County parents. These organizations could potentially include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Sacred Earth Alliance (neo-pagan), American Atheists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, of which I myself am a member. Please review the enclosures, which include some sample “nontracts” that the Freedom from Religion Foundation distributes, as well as articles describing two different situations (in Buncombe County and Brunswick County, North Carolina) in which Boards of Education halted their plans to allow any religious literature on school property, rather than opening the door to pagan literature being distributed to students.Please share this letter with the Board of Education. I ask you to provide me with a written response as to whether the district intends to continue with its new policy.
A note about the enclosures referenced in the letter: while I can't reproduce the Freedom from Religion Foundation "nontracts," they are available for purchase here. The Asheville Citizen-Times article about the Buncombe County, North Carolina controversy is available only as a paid service, but a relevant blog post that I also included with my letter can be read here. An article and a blog post describing the situation in Brunswick County, which were among the enclosures, are available here and here.
The situation in Buncombe County, North Carolina played out this past spring. Either the Muhlenberg County Board of Education and Superintendent didn't hear about it, or they felt that their actions were unlikely to generate a similar response.
Let me be clear: I don't think the ideal outcome is for the schools to have a slew of different groups showing up to distribute literature at every school function--and I'm not sure that having to compete with pagans and Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses and atheists is what the Gideons have in mind. If our Board of Education wants to remain neutral on matters of religion, its best bet is not to let any groups use school events for religious proselytizing.
I can only hope our Board members see the light.