Wilson Schools, ACLU agree to end Bible distribution

Wilson County school officials have agreed to end the annual practice of allowing the unconstitutional distribution of Bibles to students at a Lebanon elementary school and all other Wilson County schools after the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee threatened to file a lawsuit, an ACLU release said Tuesday.  

The agreement prohibits all Wilson County Schools employees from “promoting, endorsing and acquiescing in the distribution of Bibles to students of the Wilson County Schools on school grounds during school hours.”

Wilson County school officials had previously allowed representatives from The Gideons International to distribute Bibles containing the books of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs to fifth-grade students during school hours at Carroll-Oakland Elementary School. 

On Oct. 8 the ACLU sent a letter to County Attorney Mike Jennings demanding that the practice of distributing Bibles to students on school campuses during school hours be stopped. The letter was prompted by John and Jane Doe, the parents of two Wilson County students who complained to the ACLU about the Bible distributions.

A representative of Wilson County Director of Schools Mike Davis said Tuesday that all questions on the case should be referred to Jennings who is away from his office battling the flu.

Wilson County Schools agreed to pay the ACLU's attorney fees, not to exceed $5,000.

“Decisions about religion should be left in the hands of families and faith communities, not public school officials,” said Edmund J. Schmidt III, an ACLU cooperating attorney. “The vital constitutional principle of religious liberty is best protected when the government stays out of religion. Students and their families cannot feel comfortable expressing their religious beliefs when their teachers and administrators are imposing their own particular religious beliefs.”

Jerry Burden, executive director of The Gideons International based in Nashville, said through a spokesperson that “We do not have any information (about) the agreement” and therefore could not comment on the matter.

The ACLU sued Wilson County in 2006, claiming the district inappropriately promoted religion at Mt. Juliet’s Lakeview Elementary School based partly on the distribution of Bibles at that school. A federal judge ruled against the school district in that case in 2008.

A copy of the agreement may be viewed at www.aclu-tn.org/pdfs/WilsonSettlement.pdf. In addition, a copy of the ACLU’s letter of Oct. 8 to the county school board may be viewed at www.aclu-tn.org/pdfs/WilsonLetter.pdf.