"I did notice that people were handing out New Testaments," said vice principal Joseph Lepetri. "It's perfectly legal...."
Some parents of children in Point Loma's Dana Middle School were alarmed this week when strangers handing out Bibles approached their children as they were leaving the school.
Fidget spinner shows size of free New Testament
"This was quite disruptive at the school--the kids were talking about it and most of them thought it was creepy," said Diane de Nelson on Facebook posts about the incident on May 30th.
"It's a low ball / tacky/ cultish maneuver," added another commenter.
Others were not so alarmed and defended the rights of Bible donators.
"Freedom of speech is the most important element to be defended here," Richard Bagnell said. "The school is not pushing religious beliefs and the speech of protestors and religious groups are protected. God Bless America!"
Parents said that three men near the school crosswalk were handing out the miniature bibles to children as they walked by.
"I told them that marketing their religion to children is inappropriate. One responded that they are within their legal rights, and the other said they weren't 'marketing,'" said Bob Smith.
A Dana Middle School official said they are aware of the activity but did not know what group was handing out the bibles.
"I did notice that people were handing out New Testaments," said vice principal Joseph Lepetri. "It's perfectly legal...We have done research on whether it's legal, which it is, as long it doesn't infringe on anyone."
"We do teach our children not to take something from people they don't know," he added.
Lepetri said the activity happens once a year, but one parent, Joi Parker Martinez, said she sees the activity more often outside nearby Correia Middle School as recently as late March.
The books were produced by Gideon International, an organization that provides free Bibles.
Gideon International of San Diego did not reply to calls for comment. Their answering machine says "The Gideons place Bibles...in schools, free of charge," and the frontispiece in the miniature Bible mentions that they distribute to “school students.”
Churches in the area said they had no idea who was handing out the Bibles.
"It wasn't us," said Joel Webbon of nearby Response Church, "our church is very much for evangelism and doing things in wise and careful ways."
Webbon said he thought it might be groups not affiliated with any church, "what I would call 'rogue Christians.'"
Bob Smith said in the past someone handed his daughter a church flyer on Dana Middle School grounds for a movie night at Point Loma Nazarene University.
"That stopped soon after the school was notified," Smith said.
The church at the university could not be reached for comment by press time.
Some parents are pretty upset about the activity.
"They are stalking kids from across the street, to skirt the law," said Diane de Nelson.
"If it was a cult or some less popular religion I'm pretty certain parents would be up in arms about this conduct," de Nelson continued. "Frankly no one should be attempting to influence our children in that fashion at a public school...handing out the Bible to Jewish kids, Muslim kids and atheist kids is distasteful to their parents...I am freaked out about anyone handing any literature to my child. It would be amusing to see the uproar created by women in burqas handing out literature."
"The First Amendment does protect our speech. Social norms and manners tell you not to be a pushy jerk," said Donna Kregel. "Let kids walk home without being pestered about your beliefs."
"Think about how would you feel if you child came home with a mini-Quran, or a book from atheists, that had been handed out by people on every corner," said Helen Amanda Fricker.
But other parents think it is much ado about nothing.
"We should be complaining about the drugs being sold in the parking lot in front of Christy's Donuts not freedom of religion," added Elisa Brent.
"Maybe first thing we should teach our kids is do not litter!" said Sherry Vitchie. "Some kids threw the little bibles on the ground."