Court briefs debate Mo.'s school Bible case

Monday, August 25, 2008

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Several groups including one led by Alabama's ousted Ten Commandments judge, Roy Moore, have filed friend of the court briefs in a Missouri case about distributing Bibles to public school children.

The South Iron R-1 School District for years allowed the distribution of Bibles to grade schoolers, but a federal judge ruled the practice is unconstitutional.

The district appealed, and a federal appeals court in St. Louis is expected to hear arguments later this year.

A brief filed Monday by Americans United for Separation of Church and State argues that distribution of Bibles is an endorsement of religion.

" ... Given the impressionability of young children, the simple fact that grown-ups are handing out Bibles during the school day on school property is enough for an elementary student to perceive that the school is taking a position on a question of religious belief," Americans United wrote.

Moore's Foundation for Moral Law in Montgomery, Ala., argues that the mere distribution of Bibles in a public school does not amount to an establishment of religion.

"If allowed to stand, the lower court decision will further the myth that the First Amendment requires all things religious to be expunged from all things public," the foundation wrote.

Moore was removed as Alabama's chief justice after refusing to obey a federal court order to move his Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse rotunda.

For more than three decades, the South Iron School District in Annapolis, 120 miles southwest of St. Louis, allowed representatives of Gideons International to give away Bibles in fifth-grade classrooms.

After some parents raised concerns and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit two years ago, the district altered its policy -- the Gideons and others were still welcome to distribute Bibles or other literature before or after school or during lunch break, but not in the classroom.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry in January granted a permanent injunction, ruling both practices were illegal. The district court had previously granted a temporary injunction against the classroom distribution, a ruling upheld last year by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The school district appealed Perry's decision in April.

The South Iron district has about 500 students and just two schools -- the grade school and South Iron High School -- and sits in the heart of the nation's so-called Bible Belt.

Gideons International, based in Nashville, Tenn., distributes Bibles in more than 80 languages and 180 countries, according to its Web site.


On the Net:

ACLU of Eastern Missouri: www.aclu-em.org

Gideons International: http://www.gideons.org

South Iron School District: http://schoolweb.missouri.edu/southiron....

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