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Was Bible distribution on school grounds?


M. Kate West
Chester Editor
5/18/2011

“I’ve done a lot of legwork this morning in talking with the principal and Superintendent Glenn Harris,” parent Thor Schaefer said May 12.

He said his efforts were a direct result of a complaint he would be filing about Bibles being handed out on what he witnessed as school district property.

In the context of his complaint he relayed that he had observed three people handing out Bibles to kids, including his daughter, as they exited Chester High School.

“These people were on school grounds standing in the parking lot, in front of the school and in between the buses that shuttle the children. The children had to go through them in order to get off campus or enter either the bus or get to the parking lot,” Schaefer said.

Asked what his goal is with the filing of a complaint, he said, “I want parents, the public and organizations to know where the district lines are; right now they are muddy.”

He said a major part of his complaint was that “where the persons situated themselves, the kids had no choice but to walk through their solicitation.”

He also said the school district needs to offer clarification on its zoning as to what is public property and what is school district property.

“If they (persons passing out Bibles) were across the street I wouldn’t be talking to you,” Schafer said.

Guardian Elizabeth Smith also filed a complaint. In a May 12 interview she, too, said she wants the district’s property lines defined.

 

From the principal

“Yesterday afternoon, members of the Gideons organization announced to the school office they would be handing out Bibles in front of the school office. They were informed by the secretary they were limited to public areas only and were not to distribute Bibles on school property, something that they agreed to,” Principal Scott Cory said May 12.

He also said, “They have the First Amendment right, as does anyone else, to be on public property and speak their mind with the understanding they are not to restrict student comings and goings.”

Cory said he was not on campus when this occurred.

“I was off campus at the time of the distribution and this morning I received a complaint from a CHS parent that stated persons from the Gideons organization had been in the Chester High School parking lot and that kids had to go through them to get off campus, get on bus or go through the parking lot.”

He said he was told the secretaries had observed the persons standing on the sidewalk.

Cory is currently conducting an investigation as to whether or not they were standing on school property at the time they were handing out the Bibles.

“If they were in fact in the parking lot, in essence hindering access to the buses, they were doing something they were advised not to do,” Cory said.

 

The superintendent speaks

Schaefer shared the response he received May 12 from Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Glenn Harris.

After he thanked Schaefer for sharing, Harris said, “Oftentimes with property lines and private versus public rights things can be very unclear. Or become more confusing the more we learn. I say this not to excuse the situation away, merely to point out that you have cited some potential jurisdictional issues that may be complicated and need to be examined.”

Harris went on to say the district would be doing some footwork on the issue.

He also said the issue appears to be more complicated then it first appeared.

“The law is clear on rights of individuals in the public right-of-way. It becomes more confusing when and if public and private right-of-ways are intermingled. We shall learn more as we look into the issue,” Harris said.

 

The Gideons International

The Gideons International is an evangelical Christian organization dedicated to distributing copies of the Bible, most notably in hotel and motel rooms. The organization was founded in 1899 in Janesville, Wis. It began distributing free Bibles, the work it is chiefly known for, in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Mont.

The Gideons are also known for distributing Bibles to members of various countries’ militaries, and to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and students.

 


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