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Parents in Missouri claimed this week that their 12-year-old son’s rights were violated when he was allegedly stopped from reading his Bible during free time in the classroom.
“I like to read my Bible because it’s a good book,” Loyal Grandstaff told WDAF-TV on Monday. But, he claims, when he was reading it to himself before the holiday break, his seventh-grade teacher at Bueker Middle School in Marshall asked him to put the book away because it wasn’t permitted in the classroom. His father, Justin Grandstaff, was incensed, telling the TV station, “I feel like it violated his freedom of religion but also his freedom of speech.”
But Bueker principal Lance Tobin tells Yahoo Parenting, “It was a misunderstanding,” declining to explain what exactly happened. “Bibles are not banned from school,” he added. Any student who wishes to read the Bible may, he says, as long as it’s during what’s been “designated as free time.”
The Grandstaffs could not be reached by Yahoo Parenting. But Loyal seemed clear about what happened when he told WDAF, “I was just reading because I had free time. A time to do what I wanted to, so I just broke it out and read.” His teacher, he added, “doesn’t want me reading it in his class because he don’t believe it.” Loyal’s father was offended, he explained, because as he sees it, “There’s kids walking around disrespecting their teachers, kids walking around cussing and everything else, and they’re practically getting into no trouble at all.”
The situation was in stark contrast to one in Bartow County, Georgia, last month, where representatives from Gideons International were distributing Bibles to children at Cloverleaf Elementary School. At the time, the national Freedom From Religion Foundation had threatened to file a lawsuit if the practice didn’t stop.
As for Bueker Middle School, Mark Goldfeder, Emory Law School senior lecturer and Law and Religion Students Program director, says he would hope it turned out to be a misunderstanding. Otherwise, he tells Yahoo Parenting in an email, “This is really an open and shut case.”
That’s because a 1969 Supreme Court case established that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” Goldfeder explains, noting, “the court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment requires public school officials to be neutral in their treatment of religion, showing neither favoritism toward nor hostility.” So while public-school officials are forbidden from directing prayer, there’s nothing stopping a student from voluntarily praying at any time — and the same holds true for reading the good book.
“Simply put,” he says, “students have an absolute legal right to read their Bibles during free time.”