Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Public School Bible Distribution In Missouri

A Missouri public school district cannot allow Bible distribution in an elementary school, a federal appeals court has unanimously ruled.


The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a policy in place at the South Iron R-1 School District in Annapolis, Mo., July 16.


The battle over religious advocacy in the school district has been long-running. Parents brought a lawsuit in February 2006 challenging a school-approved Bible giveaway by the Gideons International, an evangelical Christian group. The conflict has continued since then, with school officials repeatedly trying different tactics to maintain the Bible distribution.


The appellate panel’s decision in Roark v. South Iron R-1 School District leaves in place a permanent injunction barring school officials from “allowing distribution of Bibles to elementary school children on school property at any time during the school day.”


The practice had been going on for 30 years, but recently community dissatisfaction began growing. In 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, acting on behalf of local parents, warned district officials that the Bible distribution policy was unconstitutional.


School board members were undeterred. At one board meeting, members voted to permit the distribution even though the board’s attorney advised against it. Superintendent Homer Lewis also opposed the move and informed the board that its insurance company had also recommended that the practice be discontinued.


But still the board would not budge. Lewis resigned, and the board subsequently arranged for two Gideons to visit the school on Oct. 4, 2005. Bibles were distributed to fifth graders. Several parents filed a lawsuit the following February.


Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, hailed the recent appellate panel ruling.


“Parents, not school officials, should make decisions about their children’s religious upbringing,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “School officials are wrong to allow evangelism by outside groups.”