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Amy Choate-Nielsen: School district reverses course, will allow 'Bible' on permission slip

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 25 2011 8:13 a.m. MDT

A California school district has given the OK to a Christian church group to include the word "Bible" on permission slips distributed in schools.

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A California school district has given the OK to a Christian church group to include the word "Bible" on permission slips distributed in schools.

The Pajaro Valley Unified School District originally told the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Santa Cruz County it couldn't circulate the permission slips because the papers included the word "Bible" and described "Bible stories," according to the Liberty Counsel, but the district relented after being contacted by the non-profit litigation organization that focuses on "advancing religious freedom."

The permission slips are for students to attend the "Good News Club," an after-school program hosted on campus by the religious group. The program emphasizes teaching lessons from the Bible.

A Supreme Court ruling in 2001 established a precedent that allows Child Evangelism Fellowship to host the after-school programs in public schools in New York.

And in 1995 the U.S. Secretary of Education outlined guidelines for religious expression in schools, saying that, "Schools may not forbid students … from expressing their personal religious views or beliefs solely because they are of a religious nature … (and) must give students the same right to engage in religious activity and discussion as they have to engage in other comparable activity."

Conflicts still flare up along the border between freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.

In March, a San Diego student filed a lawsuit against his California high school for banning him from bringing his Bible to school, and in June, officials in charge of a Palm Desert High School fundraiser in California returned $45,000 and canceled their efforts to sell memorial bricks rather than include biblical quotes submitted for the project.

The Pajaro Valley school district previously thought including the word "Bible" on permission slips was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it contained a religious reference, according to the Liberty Counsel. But that assumption is a "misconception common among public school districts," the counsel says.

"The Supreme Court has clearly ruled that public schools must provide equal access and treatment to religious speech," said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. "Equal treatment applies to use of facilities and every other opportunity provided to secular speech or groups. We are pleased that the school district did the right thing after the officials learned of the law."

EMAIL: achoate@desnews.com

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