Colorado Public Middle School Hosts Bible Giveaway During Social Studies Class

A Colorado public middle school is under fire after a teacher, in violation of numerous district policies, pushed her faith onto children and distributed Bibles in the middle of a class. Anne Landman writes on her blog that a parent at Delta Middle School in Colorado pointed out “some of the most overt and egregious violations of separation of church and state yet found to be occurring in western slope public schools.”

On December 18, a child reported to her mom that her social studies class went to the library with their teacher, Michael Long, where he  “announced to the class that there were free bibles available” and told them they “could pick one up off of a table located in the doorway of the library and take it home.” The table on which the Bibles were waiting for eager young public school children to take them was positioned “where students had to walk around it to enter and exit the library.” One child disagreed with this very obvious violation of the principle of separation of church and state, and took a photo of the Bible-table:

via Anne Landman

via Anne Landman

When the child who snapped the photo refused to take a Bible, she “was confronted by her classmates about why she didn’t take one, and the classmates started pressuring her to feel ashamed for not conforming to Christian beliefs.”

The parent contacted  Principal Jennifer Lohrberg about the incident, but was assured that it was perfectly within the rules to push a single religion on students during school hours at a public middle school. If this doesn’t sound right to you, don’t worry — the principal lied. The unnamed parent was furnished with a copy of the Delta County School District’s policy governing posting and distribution of non-curricular literature.

How much does this blatant attempt to push Christianity on children violate district rules? Let me count the ways…

  1. The district specifically prohibits “hate literature that attacks ethnic, religious, racial, or any other identified protected group.” The Bible encourages discrimination against the LGBT community, Muslims, Jews, and numerous other protected groups. It has even been traditionally used to justify racism just as it has attacks on the LGBT community.  It can clearly be classified as “hate literature.”
  2. The district also bans literature that ” promotes hostility, disorder or violence.” All through the Bible, people are encouraged to kill nonbelievers and numerous other groups, and that book — along with right-wing Christian rhetoric — has recently encouraged numerous right-wing terrorist attacks.
  3. Noncurricular materials are not to be distributed ” in any classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.” The library, a form of classroom, was at that time occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.
  4. “Distribution may be made one-half hour before school and/or during regularly scheduled lunch periods and/or 15 minutes after the close of school. Any other times during the school day are considered to be disruptive of normal school activities.” The social studies class was at 9:40 a.m., which is not before school, during lunch, or at the end of school.
  5. The policy notes that “Students may not be used as the agents for distribution of such materials without the written consent of the student’s parent.” Since a student who did not take a Bible was bullied by classmates for her refusal to do so, it could easily be said that students were used as agents of distribution.
  6. In addition, “No student may in any way be compelled or coerced to accept any materials being distributed by any person distributing such materials or by any school official” Teachers are also not permitted to endorse the material — like when the teacher instructed the children to take a Bible.

There are a number of reasons for any parent to have issues with these blatant violations of district policy — but as of yet, the school will not admit to doing anything wrong:

Principal [Jennifer] Lohrberg denied that any violations had occurred. She even assured the concerned parent all was done in accordance with school board policy and the bible giveaway had been approved by the District’s lawyers.

After being brushed off by Principal Lohrberg, the parent called the Delta County School District Assistant Superintendent, who similarly insisted the bible distribution was in accordance with District policy and the school was doing nothing wrong by making the bibles available. The superintendent suggested the concerned parent take the matter up with the School Board.

The parent intends not only to take it up with the school board, but to contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU — a good idea, as Landman notes this is not the first time the school has pushed Christianity on children:

Other incidents of religious proselytizing reported at Delta Middle School over the last year alone have included school staff mandating all middle school students attend a Christian religious play, students in the DMS drama club being forced to attend a Christian-themed musical performance while on a field trip to Denver last spring, and use of free doughnuts to coerce students to attend morning prayers led by a DMS teacher.

Freedom of religion is an important part of our society, but it also includes the ability to attend a state-funded school with the reasonable expectation that any faith will not be shoved down one’s throat. While it is completely legitimate to learn about world religions in, say, a history class because of those religions’ impact on the historical record, it is completely inappropriate for a teacher to be involved in proselytization.

Featured image via Anne Landman