In a two year old court case in St. Louis, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry has ruled that allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles to elementary school children, whether during class, lunch break, or before or after school, qualifies as an unconstitutional promotion of religion:
The purpose of both practices "is the promotion of Christianity by distributing Bibles to elementary school students," Perry wrote. "The policy has the principle or primary effect of advancing religion by conveying a message of endorsement to elementary school children."
Such cases present a conflict for those of us with strong first amendment leanings, for while we are strongly against entanglement of state and religion, we also want a free and open market of ideas. The conflict arises when religious groups take advantage of tradition, and a captive government-mandated audience, to convey their ideas where competing ideas would almost certainly not be allowed, or where they would create an atmosphere deleterious to that audience's reason for being. In this case, children are in school to learn the subject material in the classrooms, not to be confronted at every corner by someone promoting one agenda or another. They will have plenty of time for that as adults.
Of course, those pushing religion at the children don't want to hear this, and Saint Xavier summed up why many centuries ago:
"Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards"
He knew, as so many do, that children can be taught, and made to believe, all manner of nonsense, if you get them young enough, and if you can insulate them from competing views.