Another "Declaration Banned" Story?

The Worldnutdaily is reporting on a potential lawsuit against a school principal who allegedly told a group of students they could not read their bible during recess on the school grounds. The school is in Knox County, Tennessee and the Alliance Defense Fund has sent a letter to the principal threatening a lawsuit if the ban is not lifted:

According to ADF, 10-year-old student Luke Whitson used his regularly scheduled recess time to read the Bible with a few friends on his school's playground. After receiving a complaint from a parent, the principal reportedly ordered the students to stop their activity, put their Bibles away and cease from bringing them to school.

Now if this is true, the ADF is absolutely right and the principal is violating the student's rights and should be forced to change his policy. During non-instructional time, students can read their bible, pray, and even hand out religious literature to their fellow students if they want to. But given that this is the same group that issued the now-famous "Declaration of Independence Banned from Classroom" press release when filing suit in the Steven Williams case. The ADF has developed a well deserved reputation for sensationalist press releases with little relationship to reality. So let's just say I'm a bit skeptical and I suspect there's probably a lot more to the story that is being left out. But if that's accurate, the principal needs to come to his senses and stop violating the rights of students.

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I find it amazing that you would even entertain the idea that anything published by the the WorldNutDaily could have any truth involved without a second source. Their "news" is so frequently wrong and fabricated that if they wrote that the sun would rise tomorrow, I would want a secondary verification.

I'm hoping someone can provide me with another source. The story isn't totally farfetched. Principals and teachers have often done stupid things like that because they're just ignorant of the law. But given that it comes from the ADF, I suspect it's being exaggerated at the very least. Time will tell.

They also do those sorts of stupid things because they are fearful of litigation, thus making them susceptible to other litigation. I must concur with your assessment of ADF in terms of its hyper spinning stories.

Maybe I'm just being cynical, but sometimes I think public agencies do things like this just so that they can say to their constituents, "Gosh, I'd love to let the students read their bibles, but those darn liberals/secularists/homosexuals/whatever done kicked the Good Lord out of our schools. My hands are tied!"

I agree that WND is probably only providing those details that fit their agenda. It seems there's a concerted effort to make American Christians believe that some shadowy group of secularists is conducting an all-out war on their faith. After all, there's no better way to provoke the ignorant into action than to fan the flames of fear....

I wouldn't be surprised if it is true. My sister who is 10 joined a Bible Study group with some of her friends, brought her Bible to school one day to complete some exercises (yeah, they had homework for Bible study), during recess, and the teacher told her that she couldn't bring the Bible to the classroom anymore. They do this because they freak out at mixing religion and public school, and tend to over-react.

I don't think a deal was ever made of it, but I knew that the rule wasn't kosher. I momentarily entertained the idea of going to the school and pointing out why they were wrong--which would probably be unexpected, considering I'm an atheist. Alas, I never got around to it.

In case, you're wondering, my sister joined this group basically because her religious friends were in it, but now she is finally dropping out. My parents initially allowed her to join because they thought it innocuous, until my sis came home asking whether homosexuality is sinful. We had to do an intervention at that point.

So she won't be having any issues with the Bible and school, but I hope it doesn't become an issue for someone else.

Yes, there is a lot of public confusion. In my conservative northwest Ohio town I hear "It is a shame they're allowed to do X when the kids aren't even allowed to pray in school." Recently, I had students hold a Renaissance roundtable in character. A girl playing Savonarola wanted to use a Bible as a prop, but was afraid it wouldn't be allowed. In the end she played it safe despite my assurances.
Athiest though I am, I occasionally use the Bible in class. Maccabees gives an interesting perspective on the Hellenistic world, and Samuel offers one of the main justifications for the divine right of kings. Even this obviously nonreligious use makes many students uneasy. The kicker is that it is the most conservative biblebelieving (I've come to savor that word) students, who have heard all the propaganda about the war on Christianity, who are most distressed.

I wouldn't be surprised if it is true. My sister who is 10 joined a Bible Study group with some of her friends, brought her Bible to school one day to complete some exercises (yeah, they had homework for Bible study), during recess, and the teacher told her that she couldn't bring the Bible to the classroom anymore. They do this because they freak out at mixing religion and public school, and tend to over-react.
I wouldn't be surprised if it's true, because I know that this sort of thing does happen. I'd be more surprised that the ADF is telling the truth about it than I would be that it happened. I have a theory about why it happens though. It happens because too many teachers and administrators have accepted the religious right's nonsense about God or the bible being "banned from schools".

DAB at May 13, 2005 08:16 AM

Um, there's nothing wrong--that is, unconstitutional--with using the Bible as literature in public schools. Nothing whatsoever. The problem arises from the fact that more than a few of the people who want the Bible to be used in public schools want to use it to indoctrinate.

I think raj and I are again saying the same thing. The problem is that too many people cannot distinguish legitimate use of the Bible from proselytising. I wanted to make clear that many of my religious students have accepted the claim that the public school is a heathen atheist humanistic religio-free zone where they are under threat of discipline for their faith. It is absurd, but it conditions their behavior.
Yes, we do have our would-be indoctinators here as well. They may not understand (or care about) the real legalities, but they are at least restrained by the same irrational fear I just described.

There's a story in todays' Knoxville News Sentinel (available on-line at, registration required).


No rule against student Bibles
Principal says read on free time, not recess

May 13, 2005

Karns Elementary School Principal Cathy Summa spent Thursday reading hate e-mail calling her a "fascist" and a "communist."

The scorn stemmed from a story posted on the Web site, which said Summa "barred students from reading the Bible during recess" and forbid Bibles at school.

That's not exactly true, Summa said Thursday. She said students can bring Bibles to school - in fact, she has one in her own office.

But the trickier question is: When can students read their Bibles?

The answer, according to the Knox County public school system's attorney, is, during "free time."

And free time does not necessarily include recess, said the attorney, Marty McCampbell.

"I think recess is part of the school day. I wouldn't call it free time," she said.

In elementary school, educators schedule recess for a reason, McCampbell said, and they might decide they don't want students reading the Bible or any other books then.

"For little kids, it's important to get them out, to get oxygen in their brains," McCampbell said. "Having that time, it's structured into the day for a purpose, because little kids at that age do need that kind of physical outlet."

Summa said she has never been asked whether a student could read the Bible during recess. But earlier in the school year, three students and a parent asked her if they could have a Bible study group during recess, she said.

"My response was, children could not have a Bible study during the school day," Summa said.

The district only allows such groups to meet before or after school hours, said Russ Oaks, spokesman for Knox County Schools.

Representatives of a national legal group called the Alliance Defense Fund are speaking out against Knox County.

Joseph Infranco, a senior attorney with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based group, said the law does not prevent students from studying the Bible during recess.

"I think we understand that the school does not have a monopoly over children. They're not robots," he said.

Cindy Buttry, the Knox County school board member who represents Karns Elementary, said she supports the school's principal. But Buttry said she personally thinks students should be able to conduct Bible study during some parts of the school day.

"If it's not being led by an adult, if it's not something that is structured, in my opinion, I don't see a problem with it," said Buttry, who remembers reading her own Bible at school when she was in high school. "Lunch and recess, technically to me, they're on their own time."

Summa said she learned about the controversy surrounding Karns when she arrived at school Thursday morning. Upset parents were calling after they heard the Internet article discussed on Hallerin Hilton Hill's radio show.

"I was shocked," said Summa, who tuned in to the show herself.

Summa said she is scheduled to be a guest on Hill's show this morning.

"My feeling is, I want to be very respectful to the parents and children certainly," she said. "Elementary children are young, and my job is to protect them and keep them safe. I think having a Bible at school is fine."

Ericka Mellon may be reached at 865-342-6334.


Is it just me that thinks the "recess is not free time" argument is rather lame? I'd be interested to know if all books really are banned then. I find that very strange.

"Is it just me that thinks the "recess is not free time" argument is rather lame?"
I agree, it is lame. Is these a new school policy?: You must spend a minimum of 10 minutes on the monkeybars, 5 minutes on the swings and no less than 7 minutes playing 4-square and/or tetherball. Remember the school motto: No Fatties!

By GeneralZod (not verified) on 13 May 2005 #permalink

Thanks for posting that, Dave. That does add some more detail to the matter. If in fact there is a school rule that says you have to be physically active during recess and reading books is not allowed, then they may have a case that they have a generally applicable rule that just happens to also ban bible reading during that time, so it's not a free exercise problem. But I frankly doubt such a rule really exists, it's just a question of what this particular teacher happens to think. At the very least, it appears that the teacher is not motivated by being against the bible or anything like that.

Presumably they'd also have to restrict things like video games and cell phone conversations during that time. I can't recall recess being structured exercise when I was in school (that's why gym was invented, complete with the dreaded dodgeball), but maybe that's the way it is there. I'd like to see their school policy statement on this.

Note that to ruling was not that students could not read bibles during recess, but that parents could not organize a bible study for recess since organized events can only occur before or after school.

DAB at May 13, 2005 11:30 AM

I agree with this whole-heartedly.

We spend a lot of time in Germany. It's interesting that the number of religiously-oriented schools there is quite small. The government schools allow periods for religious instruction during school time and in schoolrooms, for the people who wish to partake of it, at the cost of the various establishments of religion that wish to provide it. And nobody there cares.

I recognize that Germany doesn't have a 1st amendment with an establishment clause, but at some point these objections to allowing religion to be taught in public schools gets to be silly. One ironic thing is that, a few years ago, an instructor in a Catholic religion course in Saarbruecken was dismissed by the Catholic church because she "came out" as a lesbian. She continued to teach at the school (not under the auspices of the Catholic church) and virtually all of her former students continued with her, instead of moving to the "official" Catholic instructor.

Objections to church-state issues are far more important in the US than in most Western European countries, due to the large, powerful majority of Christians in this country that aspire to assert their religious beliefs on the rest of the country. Western Europe does not have this problem, though religious tensions will increase as the muslim population grows. Even though Europe is very secular, Europeans still have the concept of Europe as Christendom, which directly conflicts with such things as allowing Turkey into the EU.