MUHLENBERG COUNTY, KY (12/13/12) – It would be an understatement to say the ongoing debate between the enormous Christian community in Muhlenberg County and members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and other atheist and agnostics has caused a “stir” in the county, and beyond.
For those not aware of this controversy, it began when an anonymous mother complained to the Muhlenberg County School Board after a child brought home a Gideon Bible, given out to students at Longest Elementary in Powderly.
From there, the fiery debate over separation of church and state has escalated and placed the Muhlenberg Board of Education in a touchy legal situation that appears will continue into 2013.
What is the difficult decision? To open the school doors to any and all non-profits to distribute literature to students, or close the doors of the school to all such groups.
In an effort to present all sides, and to clarify what has become a sometimes murky mix of facts and hearsay, Surfky.com spoke with the two major players in this controversy…Suzanne Lamb of Central City, and Dale Todd, Superintendent of the Muhlenberg County School System.
Lamb is a parent of school age children (although they do not attend any Muhlenberg County public school) and is not, as many may think, the anonymous parent who filed the original complaint regarding Gideon bible distribution in area schools. Lamb is, however, an outspoken atheist.
We asked Lamb earlier this week, “Since this controversy began, it has often been presented as a matter of separation of church and state, and a free speech issue. How do you see it?”
“First off, there’s no legal action at this point in time”, Lamb insists. “I don’t see this as being a free speech issue, although there is some of that involved. This really began as an establishment clause issue (separation of church and state), and the way courts, for about 50 years, have interpreted that, as far as limiting endorsement of religion by public schools…and by school officials basically.”
She went on to add that much of the confusion and controversy has resulted from the fact that she feels the Board of Education really has no clear written policy on this issue as far as distribution of information to students by non-profit organizations.
Supt. Todd disagrees…stating “We DO have a policy on non-profit organizations using our facilities after school. It’s under the ‘community use policy’. It’s also posted on our website, www.mberg.k12.ky.us. The key factor to this is not just exclusive to the Gideons. And we made that clear in the board meetings. It is open to any nonprofit organization who wants to go through our procedures.”
Ms. Lamb claims these procedures are biased and unclear in many cases.
“In late spring of this year, I happened to go online to see if the minutes from the (school board) meeting were online because I had some concerns about an unrelated issue. I pulled up the minutes from the May board meeting and there was a very curious line item. Basically it stated that there was a formal action taken, and they had voted to support and collaborate with the Gideon organization. That was the way it was worded. I thought that was very strange. It was so vague I really couldn’t figure out what it really meant. But obviously it concerned me because they had already said about six months earlier that they were not allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles during instructional time
Supt. Todd told Surfky.com news that with a new board taking over in January, this issue will likely be dealt with then.
“I’ll have 4 new board members. Todd said. "I will discuss this matter with them then and change, modify, keep it in place or see exactly what they want to do with that particular policy. The policy went into effect this summer so we will probably keep that policy for now. We do not feel it’s appropriate to change it at this time because we may exclude some groups who may not have yet contacted us.”
Lamb still insists that for now the policy is not specific enough in writing, for all groups to see.
“If they are going to continue with this policy, yes, they need to specify what the procedure is. How many times are acceptable? What the rules are? Do you call the principal? It’s not like they don’t know how to put a policy together, they do. I would be much more satisfied with a written policy. What they need to understand is that while a lot of people are upset with atheists and agnostics coming [to county schools] there are groups that I think could be far more upsetting to them...” citing the Muslim Mosque now located in Bowling Green…along with a list of other groups that parents may find objectionable for their children to receive literature from.
This seems to be one point on which Supt. Todd and Ms. Lamb agree.
“This is one thing many in the general public may not understand, as far as the legalities in our district. Having to allow certain groups to come into our school, that’s the real danger of this policy, so I cannot disagree with Ms. Lamb in that aspect.”
In the meantime, many who have been upset by this chain of events will have to wait and see what the incoming board decides to do when the New Year arrives.
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