FRANKFORT, Ky. — The American Civil Liberties Union says some Kentucky public schools have allowed Bibles to be given to students during school hours, and it is warning school districts to end the practice or risk a lawsuit.
In a letter sent this week, the Kentucky chapter of the ACLU claims that The Gideons International has been giving Bibles to students for years in some elementary schools, and few districts had policies governing who is allowed to pass out items to students.
The ACLU contends that allowing the Bible giveaways violate the First Amendment, which prohibits laws respecting an establishment of religion. The letter urges school districts to adopt a policy to prevent a court challenge.
The ACLU's investigation was prompted by reports from parents, spokeswoman Amber Duke said.
"We had been going on a case-by-case basis by contacting the districts and sending letters outlining the law and constitutional issues," she said.
One of the complaints was from a parent of a child in Worthington Elementary School in the Raceland-Worthington district, near the Kentucky-Ohio border, Duke said. The parent contacted the ACLU in November 2012, saying representatives of the Gideons were allowed in the classroom to give out Bibles.
"It had been a tradition," said Raceland-Worthington School District Superintendent Larry Coldiron. "Whether it was right or wrong, it had been allowed to go on for years in our school system."
Based on its open records requests, the ACLU contends the Gideons "intentionally exploited districts' lack of a centralized decision-maker for these types of requests by specifically instructing its members to seek approval for their in-school Bible distribution efforts 'at the lowest level of authority and progress higher only as may be required.'"
The ACLU also said the Gideons discouraged members from seeking school-board approval "because of the potential for unfavorable publicity by the news media."
Several schools districts, including the Raceland-Worthington District, have already made policy changes.
"We respect parents' wishes on the distribution of that type of material. Whether we agree with it or not, we have to follow the law," Coldiron said. "We have to take our own personal beliefs out of it."
The ACLU says the practice continues in other districts, and it warns that any future complaints could lead to a lawsuit.
Details for this story were reported by The Daily Independent in Ashland, Ky.