KANSAS CITY, Mo. A suburban school district has agreed to stop letting the Gideons International distribute Bibles to students, settling a federal lawsuit filed by a Roman Catholic father of three.
The consent decree was approved May 19 by U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. It was announced yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union, which assisted Kenneth J. Geniuk in filing the lawsuit against the Smithville R-II School District.
“He’s not irreligious,” said Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and western Missouri. “He just didn’t welcome the school distributing religious material to his children. His belief is that that right belongs with the family, and we certainly agree.”
Under the agreement, no one who is not a student of Smithville schools will be allowed to distribute Bibles there while Geniuk’s children are attending classes in the district. He has a daughter entering seventh grade this fall, a son entering sixth grade and another son who will enter kindergarten in 2005.
“I’m happy with it,” said Geniuk, 31, a law student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “I wasn’t seeking any compensation, any money; I just wanted it to stop. I do wish it were a little more permanent than just when my kids are in the district.”
Officials of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Gideons did not return a telephone message seeking comment.
Geniuk said he complained to school officials when his daughter, then in fifth grade, came home with a Gideon Bible in December 2002. The school had announced that the Bibles were in the office, where students could pick them up if they wished.
“I assumed it had been taken care of until this last December, when my son came home with his Gideon Bible,” Geniuk said. “So I thought I’d have better luck in the legal forum.”
The Gideons, a Protestant organization, distribute Bibles around the world. Bibles are placed in hotels, medical facilities and prisons and are given to students and members of the military.
“We don’t object to students bringing Bibles to school. That’s their First Amendment right,” Kurtenbach said. “We only object when a school facilitates the distribution of religious materials.”