Administrators at a Pennsylvania high school have banned students from giving away free Bibles during their non-instructional lunch period, but the students won’t take “no” for an answer.
“In November, the students in the Bible club asked for permission to hand out Bibles to their friends in the cafeteria during non-instructional time,” Jermey Samek, attorney for the Independence Law Center, told WPMT. “And the principal of the school told them they could not hand out Bibles.”
Samek said the decision violates students’ constitutional rights and it’s the third time in the last two years the Law Center has intervened on their behalf. Previous issues at Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School involving religious liberty were resolved, he said, but the recent Bible ban is creating a troubling trend.
“So it’s just concerning this pattern continues in violation of pretty clear case law,” Samek said. “It’s important to them that the school district understands what their rights are and so all student’s rights are protected.”
The Independence Law Center sent the district a letter last month outlining how the school’s Bible ban violates students’ religious liberty and have given the district until this week to respond. In the letter, the ILC outlines problems Christian students have faced in the past with principal David Harris.
“Earlier this year, Mr. Harris denied the Bible Club’s request to post their club flyer advertising the club’s meeting times despite granting requests from other clubs to post their flyers. He told them that they would only be permitted to post the flyers if they agreed to remove a Bible verse from the flyer,” the letter read.
“The students themselves urged Mr. Harris to reconsider that denial and gently informed him that their religious speech should be treated equally with non-religious speech, but Mr. Harris refused,” it continued. “It took our involvement and the involvement of your district’s solicitor to instruct Mr. Harris that such censorship of religious speech is unconstitutional.”
Officials with the Mechanicsburg Area School District fired back with a press release ahead of a scheduled school board meeting on Tuesday alleging Christian students and the ILC are liars, The Sentinel reports.
“The ILC press release is misleading. The student group never submitted a formal request for distribution of Bibles, and the ILC never contacted the building administration to discuss the issue,” the district statement alleged. “Instead of submitting a request and working with high school administration in a collaborative manner, the ILC’s approach has evoked negative emotions that divide our school and community.”
“There is not a ban on the Bible, Torah or the Koran or any other religious material at Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School. Students are always permitted to bring, read, share and discuss the Bible at school,” the district statement read. “We welcome and encourage students with all backgrounds and religious views to express themselves.”
The Sentinel notes that ILC legal counsel Curtis Schube is a resident of the Mechanicsburg Area School District.
Emails from school officials seem to contradict the district’s claims.
“Not only did Principal Harris tell these students that they were ‘not permitted to handout Bibles during the school day’ but he also ordered that they not even hand out Bibles outside of the school day unless they were granted permission first from the school,” the ILC wrote in an email to PennLive.
The group provided the news site with an email from Harris to the student club advisor in November, as well.
“Please inform him that he is not permitted to handout Bibles during the school day. Like other literature if he would like to request to distrubte them outside of the school day, he may submit a request which will be reviewed in accordance with district policy and case law,” the email read.
“At that time, a decision will be rendered. In addition to relevant case law, district policy #220 provides some guidelines. Please feel free to share this with (the student) or to review it with him as you see fit.”
ILC representatives reportedly attended the district’s Jan. 8 school board meeting, though the outcome of the debacle remains unclear.