Policy allows Gideons to give away Bibles
By RACHEL coleman
• Leader & Times
Sixth graders at Sunflower and Cottonwood Intermediate Schools cleaned out their desks and left the buildings for the last time Wednesday. Next year, they will move up to middle school. A few took more than memories with them: they picked up one of the free Bibles available at a display table set up by the Gideons.
The Bible distribution was an old tradition upgraded this year thanks to efforts by superintendent of schools Lance Stout, USD 480 legal counsel Rick Yoxall, a policy committee and the school board. At its Monday meeting, the board voted to approve a policy change that enabled the Gideons to offer Bibles to students in complete compliance with the law.
That left just enough time for the group to hand out Bibles before this year’s sixth-graders headed to junior high school.
“We’ve never had a policy that addressed this, even though the Gideons have been giving Bibles out for 30 years,” said board president Reid Petty. This year, concerns were raised at the district’s central office, and the policy committee met to sort out the situation.
“Our attorney did a great job investigating it, so the district could be sure we follow the law and still allow the Gideons to do what they’ve done for years,” Petty said. “He spent a lot of time checking into that for us. I’m really impressed and thankful.”
Director of human resources Paul Larkin is also pleased with the outcome.
“I think it was an excellent example of how society should work,” he said. “If people have a concern, they should be able to talk about it. The school district should consider what they want and do what we can to oblige.”
The pocket-sized New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs books have been a traditional gift to Liberal students for 30 years; however, as time passed, questions arose about the wisdom and legality of Bible distribution in a school setting. In fact, offering free Bibles to students is legal, provided it takes place in a certain way. The district’s new policy specifies exactly how the Bible giveaway must work. Key components focus on employees and students.
No school employees may take part in handing out Bibles; they can’t help set up tables or keep an eye on the display area. All that work is done by the volunteer group, in this case, the Gideons International.
As for students, it’s important that they understand they have no obligation to take advantage of the free-Bible offer. To ensure no student feels pressured or coaxed, volunteers do not stay on site while the Bible distribution takes place. They simply set up the table students may visit after they are dismissed from school.
Petty admits he feels a bit of nostalgia for the old method — a Gideon member who stood at the door of a classroom and gave each child his or her own Bible.
“I still have the Bible I received, and [fellow USD 480 board member] Tammy Sutherland-Abbott told me she has hers, too,” he said. “But I understand that the policy needed to be clear, and I was pretty pleased at how it worked out.”
The Gideons International, founded in 1899, is the oldest association of Christian businessmen and professional men in the United States. It’s also a worldwide presence, active in more than 190 countries, distributing free Bibles in many places, including schools, colleges, motel rooms and prisons. The local chapter is comprised of area residents.