Freedom of Religion – Part 3

Church Law and Tax 1989-09-01 Recent Developments Freedom of Religion Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M.,

Church Law and Tax 1989-09-01 Recent Developments

Freedom of Religion

Can Gideon Bibles be handed out to students on a sidewalk in front of a public high school? Yes, concluded a federal district court in Illinois. Several adults who handed out Gideon Bibles on the sidewalk were informed by school officials that their conduct “would not be permitted.” A lawsuit was filed to determine whether the school could stop the Bibles from being distributed. The court ruled that a sidewalk in front of a public school is a “public forum,” and as such it can be used for distributing literature unless the school can demonstrate that such an activity materially interferes with public safety or order. The court concluded that it would be “nonsense” to say that a sidewalk in front of a public high school is not a public forum. If further ruled that the school had failed to demonstrate that the practice of distributing Bibles would in any way interfere with public safety or order. Finally, the court rejected as “patently absurd” the school’s claim that permitting the distribution of Bibles on the sidewalk would violate the first amendment’s nonestablishment of religion clause. Bacon v. Bradley-Bourbonnais High School, 707 F. Supp. 1005 (C.D. Ill. 1989).

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