For the first time in school history, Grove school officials were threatened with a lawsuit if they allowed a worldwide faith-based organization to distribute Bibles to fifth-grade students.
A crowd of about 100 people turned out Tuesday night for the school board meeting to show their support for allowing the Gideons International to give out New Testaments.
Rev. Tony Wisdom, a Grove pastor, and Robert Plunk, an attorney, addressed the five-member school board, urging them to rethink the policy.
The red pocket-size New Testament, which also includes the books Psalms and Proverbs, has been given out to Grove students for decades. Gideons International was founded in 1899 and has distributed Bibles in 190 countries, according to the group’s website.
Plunk told the board the Rotary Club passes out dictionaries to third-grade students, and Bibles can be passed out as long as it is done in the same manner.
The school should abide by the laws of the land, Wisdom said. Students should also be given access to the greatest book ever written, he said.
The minority should not override the majority, Wisdom said to thunderous applause.
Other religions should have the right to pass out materials, he said.
Students are not forced to receive Bibles or other religious literature, Wisdom said.
The board did not address the policy during the meeting.
Tricia Pemberton, state Department of Education spokeswoman, said the state agency does not have a policy on distributing Bibles but leaves that decision up to local school boards.
After the meeting, Dr. Jim Rutter, school board president, said the school had received several complaints in the past when the Bibles were passed out.
“There were people that wanted us to lose our jobs for allowing the Gideons to pass out Bibles last year,” Sandy Coaly, school superintendent, said on Wednesday.
“We were told if we allowed them to be passed out, the school would be sued,” Coaly said.
“If it was me personally, we would have them (bibles) in our backpack and read them 30 minutes a day,” Coaly said.
“We are working with the school to work out a compromise not to break any laws,” said Ken Black of Gideons International.
Black is in charge of Delaware County and has been with the organization for the past six years.
“We hope to come up with a compromise as well,” Coaly said.
“I have a child in Jay Middle School and I see nothing wrong with the Gideons offering bibles on campus,” said Leanna Buske.
Buske said it would be okay for other religions to offer reading materials. Students are free to take the material or not.
“I am for anything that puts morals and character back into our schools,” Buske said.
Amie Harrison, of Miami, who has two school-age children, approved of the bibles that were given out to her children.
“As a parent it is my responsibility to teach my children what I hope they will believe and follow, Harrison said. ”So, when someone hands them something, they will have the ability to decide if they want to accept it or not.“