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.
Despite 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?