Fact check: Bibles are allowed in schools and prisons

·5 min read

The claim: Bibles are not allowed in schools but are encouraged in prisons

Violations of First Amendment rights have become a hot-button topic in recent years. Some social media users claimed recently that schools are not letting students exercise their right to religious freedom.

"Bibles aren't allowed in schools anymore but are encouraged in prison," reads text in a Facebook post shared April 5. "If kids were allowed to read it at school, they may not end up in prison."

The post generated over 500 interactions in several weeks. Another Facebook post with the same claim generated over 1,000 interactions before it was deleted. Similar posts have amassed hundreds of interactions on Twitter.

But the claim is off the mark.

Religious freedom experts told USA TODAY that Bibles are allowed in schools, though how they are used in instruction varies. The post's claim that Bibles are "encouraged" in prisons also doesn't line up with reality, experts say.

Follow us on Facebook! Like our page to get updates throughout the day on our latest debunks

USA TODAY reached out to 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 Kidd, a religious studies professor at Baylor University, told USA TODAY in an email.

"Students would always be allowed to personally possess Bibles in public or private schools," Kidd said. "Many private schools in America are religious, anyway, so it obviously would not be a problem in that context."

How Bibles are used for instruction in schools depends on the location.

Federal law on Bibles in public schools is derived from 1963 Supreme Court case Abingdon v Schempp, which draws a distinction between devotional reading and the objective study of religion, Ari Kelman, associate professor of religious studies at Stanford University, told USA TODAY in an email.

Fact check: Congress didn't print America's first Bible for use in public schools

"People can read Bibles in public schools as part of an objective study of religion but they cannot read from the Bible devotionally, as part of a religious practice," Kelman said. "Teachers cannot compel their students to read from the Bible devotionally, either."

Private schools follow different rules than public schools because they generally are not funded by taxes, but by tuition paid by parents, according to Kelman. Numerous Catholic or Jewish schools, for instance, require students to attend religious services.

The implementation of Bible courses in public schools also varies from state to state, Terry Shoemaker, a lecturer in the religious studies department 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 teaching about the impact of the Bible in public high schools.

Prisons allow Bibles, but no evidence they are '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 post's claim that Bibles are "encouraged" in prisons overstates the reality, experts say.

"Individuals have freedom of religious exercise," Shoemaker said. "Public institutions, and those employed by those institutions, are bound by the constitutional amendment to not establish any particular religion."

George Williams, a retired Catholic chaplain at the San Quentin State Prison in California, told USA TODAY in an email that prison systems neither encourage nor discourage religious materials.

USA TODAY reached out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and officials for prison systems in Virginia, California and Texas. None made any mention of encouraging particular faiths, but all noted prisoners are free to practice the faith of their choosing.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons offers inmates access to "sacred scriptures across faith lines," including Bibles and the Qur'an, and religious services to all groups in a "safe and secure manner," Randilee Giamusso, a spokesperson of the agency, told USA TODAY in an email.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which operates 34 state prisons, employs chaplains and volunteers of different faiths to provide religious services, according to Terri Hardy, a spokesperson for the agency.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Bibles are not allowed in schools but are encouraged in prisons. Bibles are allowed in both schools and prisons. USA TODAY found no evidence that Bibles are "encouraged" in prisons in a way different from other religious pursuits.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Bibles are allowed in schools and prisons

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting