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Federal judge rules Bible distribution in school unconstitutional

[JURIST] A federal judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri held Tuesday that the distribution of Bibles at elementary schools by religious organizations is unconstitutional [opinion, PDF] in violation of the First Amendment [text], ruling that a permanent injunction against the practice will be ordered on final judgment after related counts are resolved. A preliminary injunction [opinion, PDF] against the South Iron R-1 School District [official website] practice of allowing Gideons International [advocacy website] to hand out Bibles in fifth-grade classrooms was upheld [opinion, PDF] by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in August, after which the school district changed its policy to only allow Gideons to hand out religious materials during lunch or before or after the school day. Judge Catherine Perry held that both Bible distribution schemes amounted to an endorsement of religion, writing:

The undisputed evidence shows that both the old practice and the new policy were undertaken for the purpose of promoting Christianity and they have the effect of endorsing religion to impressionable elementary school students. The school policies violate the Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment].
A lawyer for the school district said he plans to file an appeal.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release; ACLU backgrounder] in February 2006 on behalf of parents of students in the district. In 2005, the school district superintendent changed the policy for Bible distribution so that Gideons would not be permitted to enter classrooms, but was overruled by the district school board. AP has more.

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