Group asks Michigan school district to let girl distribute Bibles

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

BEAVERTON, Mich. (AP) — A private legal advocacy group that has backed Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case against President Clinton has taken up the cause of a high school girl who wants to distribute Bibles to middle school students.

Beaverton High School senior Sarah M. Kile had set up a table at the district’s middle school to hand out Bibles and Christian literature March 24 when school officials told her she could not do it.

Superintendent Tom Randle said the Bible giveaway would have violated the First Amendment’s religious Establishment clause.

“As I understand the law, public schools can’t advance any particular religious belief, Randle told the Midland Daily News for a story Tuesday. “Public schools can’t act as religious advisers or allow the distribution of religious material at school.”

The parents of 17-year-old Sarah said she was indignant, and they contacted the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va. The group promotes the right to practice religion in public settings. It also is financing Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton.

“We’re proud of Sarah for what she’s wanted to do,” Bridget Kile said.

Jean-Marc Gadoury, the institute’s Midwest coordinator, said Sarah was exercising her First Amendment rights when she tried to give out the Bibles.

He said the district misread the Constitution.

“The Establishment clause applies to state actions,” Gadoury told The Saginaw News. “Student speech doesn’t constitute state action. It’s free speech, protected under the First Amendment.”

The institute sent Randle a letter Monday that gives him until Sunday to notify students that Kile’s attempt to give away Bibles is constitutionally protected or face legal action.

School district attorney Michael A. Eschelbach said Sarah has the right to hand out material at her school but not at the middle school, which she does not attend.

“The younger the students, the less likely they have been found to be able to differentiate between a non-school person or a school person,” Eschelbach said.

“It’s not the intent of the school district to deny anybody their constitutional rights,” he said. “In these kinds of situations the school district has to walk a fine line between sides, and it’s sometime a little difficult.”