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Generation X, Gideon Bibles and Prayer in Schools

A Gen-Xer Remembers Gideon Bibles and Prayer in Schools

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 

–From Paul’s Letter to the Church at Ephesus, Turkey.

Prayer in Public School

Blue Gideon BibleDespite a 1962 Supreme Court ruling declaring prayer in the public school unconstitutional, in 1977, I prayed over the intercom of my West Texas Elementary School. I was in the 5th grade and a morning devotional and prayer time were a routine part of every school day.

It was the first and last time during my childhood that God was a sanctioned part of my school. I don’t remember formal prayers or devotions in the years that preceded when I attended schools in Los Angeles and Colorado Springs or in the years that followed in public schools in Arkansas, East Texas, Dallas, Kansas and Oklahoma. I do remember students organizing prayer meetings in the cafeteria before school in both Dallas and Southeast Kansas.

I never really thought about it until recently, but Generation X was the last generation to experience prayer and devotions in a public school setting, something that obviously continued in under-the-radar schools for a period of time after it was ruled unconstitutional.

Gideons Allowed in Public Schools

In the 5th grade, the Gideons came to that West Texas elementary and distributed little red New Testaments to my classmates and me. The Gideons are an evangelical Christian organization dedicated to the distribution of the Bible in more than 90 languages and to nearly 200 countries worldwide. Despite lawsuits, they are permitted (as I understand) to distribute Bibles to public school students in the U.S. with the permission of the school superintendent. Some school districts have banned the Gideons.

In British schools, the Gideon tradition continues with less controversy. Since 1964, Gideons in Canada provide (if parental consent is previously given) New Testaments to 5th grade students; however, two days ago, the Ottawa Citizen reported that a Canadian father and secular humanist has launched a case to drive the Gideons out of Canada’s public schools.

When I was a kid, I wanted to collect the entire rainbow of Gideon Bibles. They distribute different colors for different groups.

What The Different Colors of Gideon Bibles Stand For

Orange: Sidewalk distribution to middle/high school students
Green: College/university students
Red: In-school distribution to Middle/High school students
Digital Camouflage/Desert Camouflage: Military
Dark blue: Law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and EMTs
White: Nurses, Medical professionals
Light blue: Distribution by auxiliary only
Brown: Personal worker’s testaments (for individual witnessing by Gideons)
Periwinkle: Personal worker’s testaments (for individual witnessing by the Auxiliary)
Gold: Canadian Centennial Edition

I don’t know what happened to that little red Bible the Gideons gave me or frankly what became of any of the kids that were in my 5th grade class including my friend Bridgette Williford. She was such a sweet girl. I think I’ve shared a time or two before how much I loved her name. More than 30 years after we moved away from Kermit, I gave birth to my last daughter and named her Bridgette.


Over the years, I’ve read numerous statistics that correlate the absence of prayer in public schools with rising rates of teen pregnancy, venereal disease and divorce as well as declining SAT scores. I think there is some validity in this correlation, but some people take issue with it. One text that came under a lot of fire was David Barton’s To Pray or Not To Pray. It was published in 1997 and included the following statistic:

  • For 15 years before 1963 pregnancies in girls ages 15 through 19 years had been no more than 15 per 1,000. After 1963 pregnancies increased 187 percent in the next 15 years.
  •  For younger girls, ages 10 to 14 years, pregnancies since 1963 are up 553 percent.

These stats are now 15+ years old.

Interestingly, just this spring, the Centers for Disease Control announced that teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. were at an all-time low — down 44 percent from 1991 to 2010. One of the reasons cited for is teens themselves deciding to abstain or use birth control.

I’d like to think that maybe Generation X parents had something to do with it.

Then again, maybe it’s time to make amends with MTV, the one-time initialism of Music Television. A few years ago they piloted the show, Teen Mom. It’s sobered a generation of girls with tales of the struggles and challenges associated with becoming a mommy too soon.


Finally, I remember the first time I heard about prayer being banned in public schools. I was in the 7th grade and I all I could think of was, “How are they going to ban it? You can’t stop someone from praying. Didn’t these people see The Hiding Place?”

DO you remember the Gideons or prayer in your public school?

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Jennifer

    This reminds me of something I heard a Hebrew scholar say one time — about Christians not reading the Bible being the most arrogant thing they could do – and that when we read it we literally breathe in God. Maybe even if they don’t understand the KJV, the Holy Spirit can still minister through the Word. Now, I’m wondering about Wycliffe (sp?) Bible translators…Thanks for commenting back, Brett. I’m sure that’s what my dad had concerns about — distribution without church planting.

  2. Brett

    I’m not opposed to them myself, although I think their model of distribution isn’t the most effective way of evangelism — it leaves out the need for discipling, guidance and “shepherding,” I guess, a new believer. But they’ll tell you that’s the role of the local church and they have no desire to supplant that role; although I guess that may vary from Gideon to Gideon. That also means some of their testaments are distributed in places where there are no church structures to help new believers grow in their faith, and that can pose problems.

    My discussions with members taught me that they have one goal: Get the Bible everywhere in every known language, and that’s what they do. Now, in order to keep costs down they use the public-domain KJV translation, and that’s not necessarily the most helpful one to use — putting Shakespeare’s English into a tribal language that knows little of today’s Western culture, let alone that culture as it was 400 years ago, can bring translation issues to bear that make the presence of a missionary or trained indigenous person a near must.

    But since I trust that the Lord uses a flawed instrument in my pulpit Sunday morning, I can trust he will use the Gideons if I happen to be right.

  3. Rose Byrd

    Love Gideon Bibles in schools!  My little brother was so excited in elementary school when the “Guineas” gave him a New Testament!

  4. Jennifer

    Brett – That’s interesting. I kept wanting to say something about my father and the Gideons. He tolerated them – and thought their distribution of Bibles was fine, but he was not a big fan. I never knew why. I know they bugged him a lot to join and he never had any intention of doing so. He was against his personal membership in the group. I wish I could ask him. I wonder if he thought their work supplanted the work of church building. I just don’t know. Would you have an idea? He was opposed to a lot of Christian organizations that he saw as replacement for worship and church.

  5. Jennifer

    I completely understand this. I would not want my child given religious material for another group. These things must happen with parental consent, discreetly or not at all. I hate to say that b/c as a Christian I believe in sharing my faith publicly and liberally, but the it cuts both ways. Thanks for your comment, Sharon.

  6. Jennifer

     That’s true! Before high school football games, a local clergy always offered an invocation.

  7. Brett

    Yeah, Mr. Barton and facts are not always on the best of terms with one another. The prayer-in-school claim from those statistics tries to make correlation imply causation, which is a no-no without some more evidence. There were quite a few other societal changes going on in that time frame that had a negative impact on the development of character in young people — probably moreso.

    It also ignores the fact that you can pick a number of religiously-affiliated private schools where prayer and worship attendance are a part of every school day and find their pregnancy rates are nowhere near zero and their students are afflicted by the same drug and alcohol abuse problems as their public school peers.

    I’m not certain about the impact of “Teen Mom” on falling pregnancy rates. Yes, viewers can see the problems that becoming a parent while you’re still a child, but they also see the young women in the show on the cover of “People” magazine and as celebrities. And today, celebrity is more to be valued than gold, much fine gold.

    I don’t know if I’m always on the same page as the Gideons (heh), but I know that they demonstrate the success of focusing on one thing and not letting yourself get sidetracked by concerns that may be important but aren’ related to that one thing. I certainly respect their goals and their belief that if we want the Word spread, we’re the ones who have to do it.

  8. Sharon Alger

     Some schools in Australia still give out Gideon bibles. I’m against it because we’re a non-religious family, so for us to be given Christian material would be like a Christian being given Muslim material, lol!

  9. Yogi

    I still have my Gideon Bible. They came to my school in Eagar, Arizona while I was in 8th grade in 1968. They were not allowed on school property but we could go off the grounds and get one.

    We never had prayers in my schools. At least in the classrooms. Our sports teams always had prayers.


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