Dispatches from the Creation Wars

An 8th Circuit Court of Appeals panel has upheld a preliminary injunction granted by a lower court preventing the Gideons from being allowed to hand out Bibles to elementary school students during class time:

A federal appeals court today upheld a lower court ruling that prohibited the distribution of Bibles to grade school students in a southern Missouri school district.

At issue was a long-held practice at South Iron Elementary School in Annapolis, 120 miles southwest of St. Louis, in which Gideons International representatives came to fifth-grade classrooms and gave away Bibles. A U.S. district judge issued a temporary injunction, and a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis agreed the classroom distribution should be prohibited.

Parents of some students first raised concerns about the Bible distribution in 2005. That fall, the school board voted 4-3 to allow the distribution to continue, even though then-Superintendent Homer Lewis, at the urging of the district’s insurance carrier and attorney, suggested an end to the practice. A day after the vote, the Gideons came to the school and distributed Bibles to both fifth-grade classrooms.

So here we have yet another school district ignoring the advice of their own attorneys and plowing ahead with a dubious policy. The problems are obvious: if you’re going to allow the Gideons in to distribute Bibles during class time, then you also have to allow other outside groups in to distribute literature. Can you imagine the outcry if a Muslim group came in and distributed copies of the Quran? Or if a freethought group came in and distributed copies of Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell?

As in most such cases, these Christian groups demand for themselves access and privilege that they would go ballistic over if given to any other group. It’s just like the situation in Virginia where a Christian group demanded the right to send home flyers for their activities to all students, but when a local freethought group used that same access to promote their own events, all hell broke loose and the school canceled the whole thing.

You can find the ruling in this case here. This ruling is just on the preliminary injunction, the actual case still has to be heard in the district court. What’s interesting in this ruling, however, is the same sort of thing I talked about in my YearlyKos speech, school boards ignoring all legal advice and acting in odd ways:

In early 2005, District Superintendent M. Homer Lewis decided to discontinue the District’s practice of allowing representatives of Gideons International to distribute Bibles to fifth grade students of the South Iron Elementary School in their classrooms during instructional time. Members of the Ministerial Alliance asked the Board of Education to reconsider this decision. At the Board’s February 2005 meeting, Superintendent Lewis told the Board members that “four legal sources” including the school’s attorney advised that the practice be discontinued. Lewis stated that if the Board wanted to allow the distribution of Bibles at school, an “open forum” policy could be adopted. The Board voted 4-3 “to pretend this meeting never happened, and to continue to allow the Gideons to distribute Bibles as we have done in the past.” However, when the ACLU wrote protesting this decision, the Board voted at its March meeting “to delay the Gideons distribution of Bibles” until the school attorney “gives us his determinations.”

At the September Board meeting, a representative of the Gideons and two local ministers asked whether the Board would allow the distribution of Gideons Bibles. Superintendent Lewis read letters from the school attorney, the District’s insurer, and the ACLU warning that the practice was illegal and could jeopardize the District’s insurance coverage. A minister asked whether the Gideons could give Bibles to the children for them to distribute. The Gideons representative advised that Gideons Bibles could not be distributed unless members of the Gideons were present. The Board then voted 4-3 “to allow the Gideons to come in and distribute Bibles to the 5th graders.” The school attorney wrote the Board urging it to reconsider this decision. Superintendent Lewis resigned later that month, citing this issue. The Board nonetheless declined to reconsider the issue at its October 3, 2005, meeting. On the afternoon of October 4, a school day, two representatives of the Gideons came to the elementary school and distributed Gideons Bibles to fifth graders. The school principal accompanied the Gideons to the two fifth grade classrooms and observed the distribution.

I think this illustrates, once again, the difference between mundane ignorance and virulent ignorance. If the school board merely had mundane ignorance of what the law said, that would have been solved when their own attorney and attorneys for their insurance company informed them that A) they were gonna lose if it went to court and B) that they would have to pay the full cost of the lawsuit because by ignoring the advice of their attorney they void their coverage.

But that was not enough to penetrate their ignorance. The same exact thing happened in Dover and the school board not only went ahead anyway, but they acted as though they hadn’t even been informed of what was likely to happen. That’s why Heather Geesey could tell a reporter, “We are not doing to be sued. It’s not going to be a problem. I have confidence in the district’s lawyers.” The same lawyers that had just finished telling the school board that they were going to get sued and they were going to lose.

All of this reminds me of an old Bill Hicks routine about a drought in LA and a news report that said, “We got rain yesterday, but it didn’t help the drought.” Hicks says, “If rain does not stop your drought….you’re screwed. There’s no other solution coming down the pike. There’s no anti-drought gel being developed by DuPont, water was the #1 answer. What would solve a drought? Water? Bzzzt. Wrong. You ain’t from around here, are you boy? Water don’t solve no LA drought. Unless it’s Evian.”

If knowledge doesn’t solve your ignorance problem, you’re in bad shape. And that’s the difference between mundane and virulent ignorance. Knowledge and information will cure mundane ignorance; it won’t do anything about virulent ignorance.