The claim: Bibles are not allowed in schools, but are recommended in prisons
Violations of First Amendment rights have become a Red button topic in recent years. Some social media users recently claimed that schools do not allow students to exercise their right to religious freedom.
“Bibles are no longer allowed in schools, but are encouraged in prison,” reads the text in a facebook post shared on April 5. “If children were allowed to read it at school, they might not end up in prison.”
The post generated more than 500 interactions in several weeks. Other facebook post with the same claim generated more than 1,000 interactions before it was removed. Similar posts have racked up hundreds of interactions on Twitter.
But the statement is misplaced.
Religious liberty experts told USA TODAY that Bibles are allowed in schools, though how they are used in instruction varies. The publication’s claim that Bibles are “encouraged” in prisons also doesn’t line up with reality, experts say.
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USA TODAY has contacted the social media user who shared the claim for comment.
Bibles are allowed in schools.
The claim that Bibles are banned in schools is false, thomas kidprofessor of religious studies at Baylor University, he told USA TODAY in an email.
“Students would always be allowed to personally possess Bibles in public or private schools,” Kidd said. “A lot of private schools in America are religious, anyway, so obviously it wouldn’t be a problem in that context.”
How Bibles are used for instruction in schools depends on location.
Federal law on Bibles in public schools stems from 1963 Supreme Court case Abingdon vs. Schemppwhich draws a distinction between devotional reading and the objective study of religion, Ari Kelmanassociate professor of religious studies at Stanford University, he told USA TODAY in an email.
“People can read the Bible in public schools as part of an objective study of religion, but they can’t read the Bible devoutly as part of religious practice,” Kelman said. “Teachers also cannot force their students to read the Bible with devotion.”
Private schools follow different rules than public schools because they are generally not funded by taxes, but by tuition paid by parents, according to Kelman. Many Catholic or Jewish schools, for example, require students to attend religious services.
The implementation of Bible courses in public schools also varies from state to state, terry cobblerprofessor in the department of religious studies at Arizona State University, told USA TODAY in an email.
Some states, including Tennessee, Arizona and Arkansas, have passed laws that “support the creation of Bible study courses” in schools, according to Education Week. A 2017 Kentucky law also created elective courses that teach about the impact of the Bible in public high schools.
Prisons allow Bibles, but there’s no evidence they’re ‘encouraged’
Bibles are allowed in prisons, Kidd said. Some prison systems have chaplains and Bible studies and allow seminaries or other Christian institutions to offer Bible classes.
But the publication’s claim that Bibles are “encouraged” in prisons exaggerates reality, experts say.
“Individuals have freedom of religious exercise,” Shoemaker said. “Public institutions and the employees of those institutions are bound by the constitutional amendment not to establish any particular religion.”
George Williams, a retired Catholic chaplain at San Quentin State Prison in California, told USA TODAY in an email that prison systems neither encourage nor discourage religious materials.
USA TODAY contacted the Federal Bureau of Prisons and officials from prison systems in Virginia, California and Texas. None mentioned fostering particular beliefs, but all prisoners posted are free to practice the faith of their choice.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons offers inmates access to “Holy writings across lines of faith,” including Bibles and the Koran, and religious services for all groups in a “safe manner,” Randilee Giamusso, a spokesperson for the agency, told USA TODAY in an email.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which operates 34 state prisons, employs chaplains and volunteers from different faiths to provide religious services, according to agency spokeswoman Terri Hardy.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate as FALSE the statement that Bibles are not allowed in schools, but are recommended in prisons. Bibles are allowed in both schools and prisons. USA TODAY found no evidence that Bibles are “encouraged” in prisons any differently than other religious activities.
Our data verification sources:
- David CallawayApril 22, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- The Denver Post, October 5, 2017, This is why the First Amendment supports Focus on the Family’s Bring Your Bible to School Day.
- George Williams, April 22, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- thomas kidApril 22, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Check your fact, April 22, FACT CHECK: IS THE BIBLE BANNED IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS BUT ALLOWED IN PRISON?
- Kentucky Department of Education, May 14, 2020, Kentucky Academic Standards for the Historical and Cultural Influences of the Bible Social Studies Elective Course
- Freedom Forum, accessed April 22, About
- USA TODAY, December 1, 2021, Fact Check: Congress Did Not Print America’s First Bible for Use in Public Schools
- terry cobblerMay 6, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Ari KelmanMay 6, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Randilee Giamusso, May 12, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Benjamin Jarvela, May 12, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Robert Hurst, May 12, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Terri Hardy, May 12, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Associated Press, February 3, 2019, Biblical literacy in schools will expand with state legislation
- USA TODAY, January 23, 2019, Bible classes in public schools? Why Christian lawmakers are pushing a wave of new bills
- Tennessee Department of Education, February 8, Bible Courses
- Education Week, January 10, 2018, Biblical literacy classes go beyond letter of law, Kentucky ACLU argues
- USA TODAY, April 25, Supreme Court appears sympathetic to high school football coach expelled after midfield sentences
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