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AGO 1956 No. 277 - May 28, 1956
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

TAX SUPPORTED SCHOOLS ‑- RIGHT OF SCHOOL AUTHORITIES TO AUTHORIZE COMPLIMENTARY DISTRIBUTION OF BIBLES TO STUDENTS

The board of regents of the State College of Washington may permit the Gideon Society to place Bibles in the rooms of students who request them.

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                                                                   May 28, 1956

Honorable Marshall A. Neill
State Representative, 9th District
First National Bank Building
Pullman, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 277


Dear Sir:

            In your letter of April 19, 1956, you advise that the State College of Washington has received a request from the Gideon Society for permission to approach students for authorization to place a Gideon Bible in dormitory rooms in the State College.

            You request our opinion as to the authority of the board of regents to grant this request.

            It is our opinion that the state college may permit the Gideon Society or any other organization to provide Bibles to students who request that this be done.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Article I, § 11 (Amendment 4) of our state constitution provides in part:

            "* * * No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Article IX, § 4 provides:

            "All schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence."

            It is clear that leaving Bibles for students who indicate they desire them is not a religious worship, exercise or instruction.  It is equally apparent that no public money or property is used in connection with this program.  We conclude, therefore, that the proposal would not violate Article I, § 11.

            The word "sectarian" means pertaining to the teaching or beliefs of a particular denomination.  We believe that the purpose intended by the founding fathers was to prevent the tax supported institutions of learning from being used as instruments to advance the teachings of any one religious faith over the others.  The fact that the authors of our constitution were opposed in principle to the establishment of a "Church of America" does not suggest that they were oblivious to the desirability of facilitating the practice of religion in America.

            In our judgment the complimentary distribution of Bibles to students who specifically indicate a desire to receive them would do no violence to Article IX, § 4, of our state constitution.  To hold otherwise would be tantamount to requiring the administration of the state college to monitor radio and television programs to insulate the students from such sectarian influence.

            We enclose a copy of a recent opinion of this office affirming the right of a public school to accept complimentary Bibles for the use of the school library.

            We hope the foregoing analysis will prove helpful.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


ANDY G. ENGEBRETSEN
Assistant Attorney General

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