In January of 2013, World Changers of Florida, Inc. held Bible distributions at a number of public high schools in Orange County, Florida. No student would be forced to take one, but there would be a table set up where interested students could take a copy if they wanted:
This alone could have been illegal, but the Orange County School Board agreed that non-Christian groups could also have a distribution if they wanted.
When the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC) called their bluff and planned their own giveaway, they were heavily censored. Many of their books, they were told, could not be given away, including titles such as Sam Harris‘ Letter to a Christian Nation and Ibn Warraq‘s Why I am Not a Muslim.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation didn’t buy their explanations for why the books were censored and filed a federal lawsuit against the district in June of 2013. Before the lawsuit was ruled upon, the district agreed to let the atheists give away whatever books they wanted.
Because CFFC wasn’t notified that there would be no censorship, they didn’t bother submitting a formal request to do a distribution, but the floodgates had finally opened.
Then the fun began.
After all of this, the Orange County School Board finally — finally! — considered not allowing outside groups to do book distributions a couple of months ago:
Worried about facing national ridicule if a Satanic group is allowed to give out coloring books to children, the Orange County School Board moved Thursday toward preventing any outside group from distributing religious materials on campus.
The board discussed the issue during a workshop Thursday. The earliest it could vote to change the policy would be late January or early February, officials said.
“This really has, frankly, gotten out of hand,” said chairman Bill Sublette. “I think we’ve seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we’ve had.”
That last statement is just bananas. It didn’t get out of hand at all; Sublette was just mad because non-Christian groups took them up on their offer and that was never supposed to happen.
Last month, the Orange County Public Schools board finally decided to halt the distributions completely… at least until the policy could be “reworked.” They were fine with the Bibles being given away, but they really had no desire to let atheists or Satanists have the same opportunities.
Tonight, the board voted 7-1 to ban all distributions of religious material.
Board members, who said they are on solid legal ground, voted 7-1 to approve a policy based on those in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which allow the passive distribution of some materials, but nothing that is religious, political or sectarian.
This is exactly the outcome we (church/state separation advocates) wanted. It’s not that we wanted to push any mention of religion out of public schools, but when this distribution privilege only extended to Christians, it became a constitutional violation. That door must be open for everyone or nobody. And the board members couldn’t handle letting everyone in.
It’s just too bad it took atheists and The Satanic Temple to force the change and that board members couldn’t figure this one out on their own.
Keep in mind, too, that the material that the non-Christian groups wanted to distribute included messages of inclusion, tolerance, and kindness. That’s what the board objected to because the materials didn’t come wrapped in Bible verses.
They finally did the right thing. It just took them nearly two years.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier. Top image via FFRF)