Several Jewish students at a public school in Plano, Texas, say they have been pressured by classmates to pick up copies of the New Testament and taunted when they declined.
The fuss started after the Gideons International, an evangelical Christian group, used display tables in 12 Plano schools to offer free Bibles. The Dallas Morning News reported that the evangelism effort sparked interfaith tension.
“Probably the one I heard the most was, ‘If the Bible touched you, like, will you burn or something?’” said 16-year-old Vines High School sophomore Jeffrey Lavine. “I sort of played it down as a joke and everything, which it was, but it was definitely a meaner comment than what we’re used to.”
Steve Lavine, the student’s father, added, “A lot of effort has been put into the separation of church and state. It seems like this is a backdoor way to bring things back in and has been done in a way that hasn’t been thought out.”
School officials claim they must allow Gideons access because of a federal judge’s order regulating distribution of materials in the school district. Superintendent Doug Otto says a 1999 court ruling mandated equal treatment of outside information coming into the school. The lawsuit was brought by parents who said officials stopped them from handing out information that was critical of a district math program.
“As long as some people have access to the distribution table, all people have access,” Otto told the newspaper. “That is the policy, and we’re trying our best to make people aware of it. We certainly don’t want people to think we endorse one religion over another.”