By John Pierce

My freshman daughter sent a text yesterday as she was making her way across the expansive University of Georgia campus. The Gideons were everywhere, she said, handing out copies of the New Testament.

“Is that legal on a public university campus?” she asked.

My two-fold response was: Yes, if offered without coercion, and if other religious and non-religious groups are given equal access.

At least that is my take on how the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty plays out in the public arena. During my 13 years of doing campus ministry on state university campuses, I never had one conflict with administrators (and enjoyed many positive experiences) because of that understanding.

It is a perspective that affirms the freedom to openly practice one’s faith while being respectful of others. Therefore, the public practice of faith is done freely but without coercion. And all faith groups have equal access to the public arena.

My daughter said various other groups were scattered about campus as well — but the Gideons were out in massive force.

“I just wish they had one table set up like everyone else instead of being there every 10 feet,” she texted back to me — creating an image of students swimming through a sea of New Testaments on their way to classes.

The Gideons do things on a big scale, I told her. Using dedicated volunteers, Gideons International shares millions of Bibles worldwide each year.

“I had a youth minister give me some free-trade chocolate and invite me to his church last week,” my daughter added. “I liked [his approach] better.”

My appreciation for the remarkable work of the Gideons in getting Bibles spread around the world is high — even though many pastors fear few things more than the annual “Gideon speaker” request. So please don’t misconstrue my point here.

But, for what it’s worth, I’m passing along one ground-level perspective that may or may not be helpful to those seeking to be faithful in sharing the Good News in the public arena.

And I’ll wait until my daughter finally comes home from college this coming weekend to ask if she went to the church or just ate the chocolate.

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