LEBANON, Tenn. – Wilson County schools have agreed to stop distributing Bibles to students during the school day on school grounds.
The settlement comes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee threatened to sue the district on behalf of a fifth-grade student at Carroll-Oakland Elementary School.
The ACLU said in a news release issued today that the student, referred to as Joann Doe, was taken into the gym earlier in the year with her classmates and that principal Carol Ferrell introduced the children to representatives of The Gideons International and told the students about the time she received her first Bible.
Joann Doe’s teacher called each row of students forward to receive a Bible but told them taking a Bible was not mandatory, according to the release. However, every student did take a Bible, including Joann Doe, who said she feared being ostracized if she did not.
Wilson County attorney Mike Jennings said on Tuesday that he would have disputed the account of what Ferrell said if the matter had gone to court. Ferrell referred all comments to Jennings.
In the settlement, school board members acknowledge that the distribution of Bibles to students at school has been recognized as a violation of the Establishment Clause of First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Students and their families cannot feel comfortable expressing their religious beliefs when their teachers and administrators are imposing their own particular religious beliefs,” ACLU cooperating attorney Edmund Schmidt III said of the settlement.
The school system also agreed to pay the ACLU’s attorney fees, not to exceed $5,000.
The ACLU sued Wilson County in 2006, claiming the district inappropriately promoted religion at Lakeview Elementary School based, in part, on the distribution of Bibles there. A federal judge ruled against the district in that case in 2008.
More details as they develop online and in Wednesday’s News Sentinel.
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