Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Let 'em read

Posted at The Daily Tar Heel.

A Fayetteville mother recently filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union after an unknown source placed a stack of Bibles in her son's fifth-grade classroom.

Because students were neither encouraged to take a Bible nor discouraged from it, we find no problem with simply making them available. However, it would still behoove the school to formally state its policy on distribution of literature by outside groups.

Had there been a stack of brochures for a local soccer team sitting there, no one would have ever complained that soccer fanatics were trying to brainwash their children into believing that soccer is the greatest sport ever.

Regardless, the school system's policy allows outside groups to make information available to students. This would apply to any other religious texts, too.

The First Amendment guarantees only that the government cannot establish a national religion, or infringe on the rights of free worship. The simple presence of Bibles does not violate either of these provisions.

The federal circuit appeals court that encompasses North Carolina ruled in 1998 that having Bibles available doesn't violate the Constitution, but confined the issue to secondary schools because students in grades one to four could misinterpret the presence of religious materials as an endorsement.

Since the students in question are fifth-graders, the effect of this ruling is somewhat unclear. But the school could clarify things by stating that other religious groups could contribute their texts, too.

So long as the Quran, the Torah and any other religious text can be distributed next to the Bible, then it doesn't seem unfair to make the information available.

Religion doesn't have to be a controversial presence in America, but if nervous and overprotective parents don't watch it, their impressionable young children will grow to see all religion as dangerous and detrimental.

The First Amendment limits the reach of government to establish a national religion or to prohibit the free expression of religion. Some folks need to get a grip on this.

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