Richland School Board candidate among group handing out Bibles near school

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 21, 2013 

A group of about six people handing out Bibles to middle school students in Kennewick recently included a challenger seeking a seat on the Richland School Board.

Kennewick police were called Thursday to Horse Heaven Hills Middle School after passersby called and complained the evangelical group Gideons International, which included Ron Higgins of Richland, were a traffic hazard.

The group was not breaking any laws and was allowed to continue, officials said.

Higgins, who is opposing incumbent Heather Cleary, told the Herald that his running for office does not require him to give up his First Amendment rights and the concept of separation of church and state is not in the U.S. Constitution.

However, Higgins said his faith advocates for freedom of religion, and he wouldn't have people proselytizing in Richland schools if elected.

"I don't have the authority to do that," he said.

Higgins, a retired engineer at Hanford, works as a substitute teacher throughout the Tri-Cities, usually in mathematics classes. He was a candidate for the state superintendent position in last fall's general election.

Gideons International was founded more than a century ago to distribute Bibles and other Christian literature. While perhaps best known for the Bibles members leave in hotel and motel rooms, the group also distributes information to students, hospitals and the military.

Higgins said he's been active in the group for 10 years. This isn't the first time the group has stood on sidewalks outside the school along Vancouver Street and handed pocket versions of the New Testament to students.

"The kids have generally been very nice and polite, even when they turn it down," he said.

No one from the school contacted authorities about the group, said Robyn Chastain, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District.

Higgins said school staff members came out to make sure they were on the sidewalk and not on school grounds. A parent reportedly accused the group of soliciting in front of the school and claimed to be calling police.

Higgins said if elected, he wouldn't have an issue with groups such as the Gideons being at schools "as long as they're not being disruptive" and noted that Bibles frequently have been given to U.S. service members, who are government employees.

His religious views would influence his role as a board member, as issues such as theft and lying are inappropriate, he said, but he wouldn't force students to pray in school or accept religious literature.

"I'm not going to have people proselytizing whatsoever," he said.

w Reporter Tyler Richardson contributed to this story.

w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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