Principal, Parents Upset by Bible Distribution at School
HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ Parents are upset about the distribution of free Bibles to students outside a school here following a a chaotic scene in which some youngsters threw the books out bus windows and another ran into the side of a moving car.
″It was a messy scene,″ said Michael Rovello, principal of the Reynolds Middle School where the miniature New Testaments were distributed by volunteers from Gideons International.
The volunteers, whose organization places Bibles in hotel rooms, stood on the public sidewalk here and approached students in sixth through eighth grades as they boarded buses on Nov. 28.
The incident prompted complaints from parents and Ruvello, who said Wednesday that he was worried that the Bible distributors were ″proselytizing young, impressionable kids.″
Some of the 1,200 students who attend the suburban Trenton school ran from buses they were boarding on school property to buses lined up on the road to grab a Bible, officials said.
″They were brightly colored orange-red covers. Kids felt like they had to get whatever was being handed out for free. Some kids collected eight or nine or 10. Then kids were throwing them out bus windows,″ Rovello said.
One child ″ended up with a bloody face″ because he ran between two parked buses and into the side of a moving car, he said.
″These children are being approached without their parents knowing it,″ the principal said. ″If these people are allowed to give out religious materials, what’s to prevent someone from giving out salacious materials.″
He said the students were being ″taken advantage of″ because ″the children who come here are in effect captives here by law.″
W.W. Vardell, special services manager for the Gideons International in Nashville, Tenn., said volunteers ″do visit schools from time to time.″
Vardell said he was unaware of any complaints in New Jersey and ″at this point, I don’t want to say anything more.″
Schools Superintendent Albert DeMartin said the district’s ″posture has been that distribution of these Bibles is a protected exercise under the Constitution so long as it’s not on school property.″
But school officials are concerned about safety and traffic control and asked the Gideons to give them 24 hours notice of future distributions so police can be called in to oversee the situation, DeMartin said.
Rovello said he was given 45 minutes notice of the Nov. 28 distribution.
DeMartin and Jan Wible, president of the Reynolds Parents and Teachers Association, said they received calls from upset parents.
″We are becoming more concerned about child abuse and kidnapping. We want to know who is coming in and what is being given out,″ said Marilyn Jose, who added that she and other parents will lodge their complaints with the township council and board of education.
″It’s not the Bibles. It could have been balloons. It could have been candy. It could have been literature on marijuana. It’s the whole idea of any group that makes it a point to target children,″ said Mrs. Jose.