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School is no Bible-free zone


The Gideons have long been known for giving out Bibles -- in everything from motel nightstands to hospital beds, military bases and jails.

But a yearly crusade by local Gideons to hand out Bibles to kids as they leave area public schools once again has some local parents up in arms.

The latest flap comes after four local Gideons, mostly older men dressed in suits, handed out their trademark orange Bibles on sidewalks as sixth, seventh and eighth graders filed out of District 11's Irving Middle School last Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm spending all this time telling my kids not take things from strangers," said Beth Heinrich, a Catholic who has a daughter at the middle school. "So I'm dealing with this as a safety issue; I mean, these are pretty young kids, 12 or 13 years old.

"But I'm also raising my daughter in my faith," she added. "I have a problem when someone starts evangelizing my child."

Other parents questioned the evangelists' tactic of positioning themselves outside middle schools where young students are not under the watchful eye of school officials or parents.

"I just don't like anyone exploiting children for a particular cause or business, whatever it is," said Patty Wiley, whose 12-year-old daughter attends the school.

Wiley confronted the Gideons after she saw them unloading the Bibles from a truck outside the school. "I told the man that I have to go on record and object to this and he said, 'I suppose you're an atheist.' I told him that wasn't the case, but that I happen to be a mother, and I do not like strangers handing things to my kid."

One of those strangers was Cecil Charles, past state president of Colorado Gideons Association. He refuted the claim that he and other Gideons were taking advantage of the children's vulnerability.

"We don't hand them to the kids or try to convince anyone to take one," he said. "We just offer them, but they do not have to take it. So it's not like forcing it on anyone. If a parent does not want a child to take something, they can tell them not to take them. Many kids do turn us down, and that's fine with us."

Charles said there are roughly 150 to 160 Gideons and auxiliaries (the Gideons' word for their wives) in Colorado Springs, and each year, those members give out roughly 10,000 Bibles at area hotels, hospitals, jails and schools.

Gideons have given out Bibles at local schools for more than 30 years. "We used to give them out in the classrooms, but we can't do that anymore," Charles said. "We're just trying to get good into the hands of children and other people. We don't look at it as exploiting anybody."

Not everyone agrees. District officials say they've fielded numerous phone calls from concerned parents who want to know if administrators gave permission to the Gideons to hand out the Bibles.

But Roger Lauden, assistant principal of Irving Middle School, said there's nothing the school can do, because the Gideons stay on city-owned sidewalks, where distribution of Bibles is protected by the First Amendment as free speech.

"We have this every year," Lauden said of the Bible giveaway. "If they stay on the sidewalk, there's nothing we can do. And they stay on the sidewalk. They were within the law."

Lauden went on to say that although he's always concerned when strangers appear near his school, the Gideons did not force kids to take the Bibles. "As far as I was concerned, they were very much gentleman," Lauden said of the Gideons, who positioned themselves near various school exits.

"If they were passing out hate literature -- if it's inciting violence -- then that would be different," said Lauden. "I'm not a lawyer, but I think we'd be able to stop that, because it's inciting violence."

All in all, Lauden said, no harm was done. "It's better than handing out guns," he said of the Gideons' Bibles.

As for parent Wiley, she's still angry that strangers would try to subvert her authority as a parent by evangelizing her child. But she said some good did come from the episode.

"It was a good experience in the long run, because we were able to talk about the old 'Don't take anything from stangers' thing. Ya know, just because [someone is] dressed nicely doesn't mean you can trust them."

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