By Caroline Sweeney
Last week, students at Seitz Elementary School in Fort Riley, Kan. had the option of picking up a Bible distributed by Gideons International.
The group does not keep it a secret that children are a demographic they try to reach.
“Kids are impressionable and are more susceptible to peer pressure. It’s not to say that they can’t understand what they believe and what they don’t believe,” said Monica Miller, the senior counsel for the American Humanist Association.
The website says it tries to reach “5th grade and above,” but one fourth grade student at the school was “uncomfortable” about the religious text in the school.
She told her mother who contacted the association after an attempt to speak with school administrators.
“Frankly, I felt like the mother’s concerns were being dismissed by the administration,” Miller told KSNT News.
In an 11 page letter addressed to Jodi Testa, Seitz Elementary Principal and Corbin Witt, the Superintendent of Schools for USD 475, the association claims “Seitz Elementary School facilitated the Gideons in distributing Bibles to a captive audience of elementary school children.”
This practice, the group claims, is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution also known as the separation of church and state.
The Bibles, “were displayed prominently on a table in the hallway outside the classrooms, near the exit doors in the central 4th and 5th grade pod,” the letter claims. “The majority of 4th and 5th graders must pass through the pod to leave for the day.”
Despite the constitutionality of the practice, Miller said the most important thing was the student felt “extremely uncomfortable.”
According to Miller, the student is being raised in a non-theistic house and identifies as an atheist.
The letter “demanded” three things from USD 475. First, the district must stop “formal distribution of bibles at any elementary school.” Second, advise teachers “they are not permitted to distribute Bibles to students in class” or during the school day.
Lastly, “teachers are instructed that under no circumstances should they attempt to persuade or invite students to take Bibles during class time.”
Something Miller and the concerned mother said already happened. While the Bibles were in school a fifth grade teacher allowed students to leave class to pick up a Bible and then return.
Miller said that perpetuates the peer pressure for students who did not want to take one.
KSNT News reached out to the Geary County School District for a comment about the situation.
Witt replied with a written statement saying, “USD 475 will review the practices and procedures of the activity in question and will review the complaint with our lawyer to determine if any changes need to be made to our practices. Based on the advice of counsel we will act appropriately.”
The association gave the district a week to indicate they were taking “appropriate steps to remedy this clear constitutional violation.” If not, Miller said the group will file an injunction and being litigation proceedings.