Distribution of any religious material banned from Bledsoe County Schools
The separation of church and state is an issue that has been discussed in our country for hundreds of years.
Gideon Bibles have been made available in Bledsoe county schools for years. Residents say a recent complaint put a halt to the deliveries in school libraries.
Gideon places free Bibles in hotel rooms, fire halls, army bases and hospitals. The non-profit group also visits prisons to spread the word of the New Testament worldwide. The big question circulating the Tennessee Valley is whether or not the New Testament Bible should be offered up to 5th grade students or not. Gideon Charlie Queen has been giving away free Bibles for years. He says 5th graders could take one or walk away, no pressure.
"We simply go in and we lay it on the table. We tell them what it is and who we are. If they want one, they freely take one," said Charlie Queen, Chaplain for Sequatchie Valley Camp of Gideons. "We do not hand it to them, they take it freely and voluntarily."
A recent complaint to the Bledsoe County school system now raises legal red flags. Gideons are no longer allowed to offer free Bibles on school property.
"I look at it more as a loss of a freedom more so than anything else," said Queen. "We are right here on Veterans Day.... people have fought, sacrificed and died for their country and for these freedoms. Now another one is trying to be taken away; that's what breaks my heart."
By law public schools cannot impose or promote religion. Superintendent Jennifer Terry would not elaborate on the complaints made. In a statement to Channel 3 News, she said the school system will no longer allow any religious group or material to be distributed.
"Bledsoe County Schools do not allow the distribution of religious materials from any religious groups. The distribution of religious materials in a public school is in violation of constitutional provisions and well established federal and state laws and precedence," Jennifer Terry, Director of Schools in Bledsoe County
"My whole congregation is very upset," said Pastor Bill Wolfe of Lee Station Baptist Church. "We talked about it yesterday morning. They (Gideons) come in and they don't force anything on any child. It's an opportunity for them to receive a New Testament Bible. They can take it if they want one and they don't have to take it if they don't want one. I'm 51-years-old and I still have mine that I received in the 5th grade, so it's been going on for years and years."
Pastor Bill Wolfe says he and others in the community are ready to take a stand.
"They're not going to stop at Bledsoe county. It will come to Sequatchie county, Cumberland county, Rhea county and all of the surrounding counties here. They're going to try and stop it everywhere," said Wolfe. " We're sliding further and further away from the principles our nation was founded on and it's very sad because we used to be 'One Nation under God'. Now, I really believe we are slipping further away and we're not going to be able to say that much longer."
Community members plan to protest this decision at the next school board meeting. School leaders tell Channel 3 they do have a Bible History course that includes a textbook. Students are allowed to bring their personal bible to school should they wish.
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