Ten-year-old student and friends told to put away their Bibles during recess

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—A principal at Karns Elementary School is on shaky constitutional ground after telling a group of young students that they cannot bring their Bibles to school or study them during recess, according to a letter written to Knox County School District officials by an ADF-allied attorney.

“The Constitution does not prohibit Bibles during recess; it prohibits the wholesale banning of Bibles during recess,” said Charles Pope, the ADF-allied attorney who wrote the letter to the district.  “A school official cannot tell a student that he can’t bring his Bible to school or study it with friends during non-classroom time.”

Ten-year-old student Luke Whitson used his regularly scheduled recess time to read the Bible with a few friends on his school’s playground.  After receiving a complaint from a parent, the school’s principal reportedly ordered the students to stop their activity, put their Bibles away, and cease from bringing their Bibles to school.

“There are no ‘age discrimination’ allowances in the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The law protects these students the same as it protects all students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco.  “Children have rights of speech and association during their non-instructional time, and the school may not curtail those rights because of their age.”

The students and some of their parents were upset by the principal’s actions.  After complaining to the school, Whitson’s parents sought legal assistance from Pope, of the Athens legal organization JMF Counsel.

“The law as it pertains to this situation is well settled.  Students may have religious discussions and Bible study during non-instructional time,” Pope explained in his letter.  “The school district should immediately issue a statement addressing the unconstitutional actions and policy and alerting all personnel to permit Luke and other similarly situated students to exercise their constitutional rights.”

“We hope the letter will clear up the situation and provide valuable information to the school district on the First Amendment rights of their students,” said Infranco.  “An important part of ADF’s mission is to help schools understand what the law really says so they can create constitutionally sound policies.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.