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Clergy ask to leave Bibles for Mecklenburg County students
SoVaNow.com / December 04, 2013
A decision by Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton to disallow the Gideon Society from leaving Bibles on tables for students in county elementary schools has drawn the ire of several local clergy.
From Thornton’s perspective, the matter is resolved: “I have met with the Gideons and have given them permission to stand with their Bibles at the table. Students can take one if they choose to. School personnel cannot tell students they are there or encourage them in any way.” However, this resolution was never communicated to several clergy who challenged the initial decision.
A letter to local newspapers penned by Rev. Dr. Kevin G. Rosenfeld of the First Baptist Church in South Hill, and signed by eight other pastors from churches throughout South Hill and Boydton, calls on Thornton to make Bibles available to the school children of Mecklenburg County “even passively… if they and their parents so choose.”
Rosenfeld said he first became aware of Thornton’s decision in September when Glenn Barbour, chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, discussed the matter with a local clergy group. Rosenfeld said he, in turn, discussed the matter with the members of his congregation. “They found it preposterous that anyone would think that a Bible is harmful to elementary children,” and encouraged him to respond to Thornton and the School Board.
“The clergy group worked on our response for nearly two months,” said Rosenfeld, before presenting it to Thornton. They would have welcomed a chance to sit down with the Superintendent and discuss the matter in more detail. Instead of an invitation to chat, Rosenfeld said they received a “well written response” from Thornton “thanking us supporting our youth to continue to learn and seek knowledge.” They never received any other communique from the superintendent on this matter.
“We are well aware of the political landscape that prevents school officials from endorsing any religion,” said Rosenfeld. He added, “We are not asking for that. We are simply asking that the Bible be made available to all children from kindergarten through high school.” He even encourages the schools to make books of faith available to the students from other religions, whether it be the Torah, Quran, or the Sacred Book of Buddhism.
Rosenfeld sees these religious texts as “resources for the students,” like any other book.
He and the other members of the clergy group were particularly “fired up” by their understanding that Thornton would withhold the Bibles from elementary students because they are, in Rosenfeld’s words, “too impressionable.” He said the lessons gleaned from the Bible, if followed, make for good citizens. He said these lessons often illustrate two of the five habits of heart and mind, integrity and respect, which teachers in Mecklenburg County use to promote good citizenship.
“It is vital, for this reason [because young children are impressionable], to inform and educate our precious children as early as possible with the values and skills necessary not just to survive in our world, but to sustain a healthy lifestyle necessary to maintain physically and morally healthy lives,” Rosenfeld wrote.
Rev. Susan Grimm, of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Clarksville, who is not a member of Rosenfeld’s group, had a different take on whether the Gideon Society should leave Bibles at the school for students to pick up. She said, “I am deeply appreciative of the work that the Gideons do in distributing the Word; I still have a New Testament that I received many years ago. And I am also aware of the power of peer pressure among elementary age children, for good or ill. What concerns me more is that children are not being taught about God in their homes, whether or not they choose to pick up a Gideon Bible.”
Rosenfeld would not disagree with Grimm. He simply points out that the breakdown of the modern family and the lack of biblical home study is the very reason Bibles need to be available in the schools.
During the September meeting of the Board of Supervisors, member David Brankley expressed his displeasure with a memo issued by Thornton prohibiting the Gideon Society from distributing Bibles in the schools. “This is something that has been done for ten plus years,” Brankley said, and “it was not that the Bibles were forced on children, they were set on a table in the classrooms for students to pick up if they wanted one.”
According to Brankley, Thornton banned the practice on advice of the school board’s legal counsel.
When asked his thoughts on the ban, School Board trustee Glenn Edwards, who was present at the Supervisor’s meeting, told the Board that the schools’ attorney offered no such edict. Instead, Edwards claimed the attorney left it up to the school to handle the matter, with the caveat that no child should be forced to accept a bible, and school personnel should not comment on or direct the students to the Bibles.
Responding to a request for comment for this article, Thornton — who was not present at the September meeting — said about Brankley’s comment, “I don’t know how anyone knows what my conversation was with the attorney. The attorney sent an email in response and I forwarded it to all board members.”
Brankley’s advice to Thornton at the September meeting was, “Don’t be scared. I am sure the people of this county will back you. If we have to go to Court I say let’s go, and don’t forget the first thing we will have to do when we get there is raise our right hand and swear on the Bible to tell the truth and nothing else but the truth so help me God.”
If given the chance to speak directly with Thornton, Rosenfeld would add, “Remember that we were founded on the principal of freedom of religion not freedom from religion.” He would also tell Thornton about an organization, The Alliance Defending Freedom, who, at no charge, will fight any challenge brought against the schools for making Bibles available to the students.” They recently defended a school in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when students were told they could not perform the music to “Joy to the World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” during a holiday concert.
He would also remind the Superintendent and the school board that the first colleges in this country mandated students to study biblical education as part of the curriculum and that in the early 1800s, most university presidents were seminary trained.
CommentsGet over it non-Christians! The Bible and Christianity are as much a part of the founding of this country as blood, lead, gunpowder, and real men with spines unlike most leaders today. This country was not founded by Shiites, Sunnis, Budhists, Jews, or any other religion. Thomas Jefferson used to have this government's military band go and play every Sunday at his Christian church. So if your childs limited exposure to a Bible in a Christian country's schools offends you just shut your mouth, accept it, and be thankful you live in a free country that tolerates you. Most people have no idea exactly how much the men who slaughtered Prince William's ancestors were influenced by Jesus Christ because the government indoctrination centers only teach a watered down version. If you are offended, just remember there is no law against offending.
- By You live in a Christian country on 12 / 04 / 13
CommentsAnd by the way, have a Merry CHRISTmas!
- By You live in a Christian country on 12 / 04 / 13
CommentsI think the letter makes a key point by quoting Romans. We have to "pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding." I completely agree with the Gideons and it is my hope that members of the Christian community who support the Gideons and these endeavors also conduct themselves in a peaceful fashion when expressing our displeasure with the decision of the school board. We do not want to be a stumbling block to "non-Christians" just because we are passionate about this issue. The whole point of the letter was to civilly discuss and warmly invite these "non-Christians" into our churches. Combative attitudes go against that spirit.
- By Humble Christian on 12 / 04 / 13
CommentsAnd all the king wanted was taxes. Just remember that without God and those combative attitudes we would be licking the boots of the British and bowing to the queen of England.
- By You live in a Christian country on 12 / 04 / 13
CommentsThe Federal Courts have ruled that public school property is off limits to the Gideons. How hard is that to understand?
Will these ministers be so accommodating when the Wiccans or some White Supremacist religion show up at their kid's school to pass out their "holy" books?
As a taxpayer I do not want my tax dollars used to defend a lawsuit that will sooner or later come to pass. I want my tax money to be spent educating our children, not defending indefensible positions. "Educators" that cannot comprehend this, need to be shown the door.
- By Taxpayer on 12 / 04 / 13
CommentsInstead of the Gideons spending their money providing a copy of the Bible, maybe your tax dollars should be used to provide every child with their own copy of the Bible so they can better understand the history of their country, the basis for the religious beliefs and moral foundation of the men who wrote their Constitution, and how the Bible was the basis for their legal system including the federal courts. Wiccans or some White Supremacist religion played no role in founding the United States of America. How hard is that to understand?
- By Isn't history fun on 12 / 05 / 13
CommentsAmerica was founded as a secular nation. Have you ever bothered to read what Thomas Jefferson wrote about religion? Or Thomas Paine?
The U.S. Constitution contains no mention of "God" or "Christianity".
In 1797, America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense founded on the Christian religion." The was written during Washington's presidency, and approved by the US Senate under John Adams.
Would you really like to live in a Country where men will interpret the holy law for you and punish the guilty? Didn't America invade a Country (Afghanistan)for this sort of barbaric behavior. Wouldn't it be neat to see women and children stoned to death in the streets of America? That's one of many punishments listed as acceptable in the KJV of the Bible passed out by the Gideons. They'll tell you well that was old testament law. Jesus himself said he did not come to destroy the old law.
- By Taxpayer on 12 / 06 / 13
CommentsSeriously, a routine diplomatic agreement with the Ottoman Empire? In other words a feel good letter to Muslims, that is your argument to discount all the references to God and the Bible ever muttered by the men who formed our government? Certain people love to hold up Jefferson as the poster child for your argument which valid in some ways is not completely accurate. "I am a real Christian - That is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ" by Thomas Jefferson
"The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." by Thomas Jefferson
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God" You guessed it Thomas Jefferson.
- By Isn't history fun on 12 / 06 / 13
CommentsOur government invaded Afghanistan for heroin production and the trillion dollars of mineral deposits under the ground. You didn't actually believe we have been there just to fight boogie men muslims living in caves did you?
or how about this one
- By Get a clue on 12 / 06 / 13
CommentsThis might help.
- By You live in a Christian country on 12 / 06 / 13
CommentsHaha...I suppose a treaty signed by John Adam and ratified by 2/3 of the U.S. Senate, and thus the law of the land, becomes a mere "routine diplomatic agreement" when it suggests the U.S. is not founded on Christianity. What I can't understand is how "Christianists" can't see the difference between the Founders holding strong religious views personally, but not feeling the need to impose those through the government. This is why, despite the common practice of invoking God in the Articles of Confederation and several state constitutions at the time, the Founders chose not to mention God, Jesus, the Bible or Christianity in the U.S. Constitution or in any of the 85 Federalist Papers that explain the inspiration behind it. If you know your history, you know that evangelicals at the time were fiercely against the Constitution since it was a "Godless" document.
So glad to hear someone in my home county is standing up against Christian privilege and for the Constitution.
- By Tony on 02 / 14 / 14
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