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.
Well, the Orange County Public Schools board has finally decided to halt the distributions completely… at least until the policy can be “reworked.” They were fine with the Bibles being given away, but they have no desire to let atheists or Satanists have the same opportunities:
“Nothing’s going to be going on in this district this month,” confirmed Kathy Marsh, communications director for OCPS.
Marsh said no materials will be allowed from outside groups until the school system’s distribution policy can be “reworked” to avoid future problems. The school system is currently in talks with its attorneys to hash out the most efficient policy, she added.
For Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger, the school board’s decision to ban Bible distribution in the face of opposition was “unfortunate.”
“It required courage on their part, which is lacking,” he said. He believes the school board caved in to pressure after concerned parents spoke out at board meetings against Satanist materials being made available in schools.
“This is precisely what the Freedom From Religion people want,” Stemberger added. “They want to get rid of religion, and that’s their strategy. And everybody’s played into the strategy. It’s unfortunate.”
This is a typical Christian Right talking point. FFRF and CFFC and The Satanic Temple weren’t asking for special favors. They didn’t even force the district to stop third-party Bible distributions. They gave the district the choice of allowing all theistic and non-theistic groups to give away materials… or allowing none of them to do it.
That isn’t anti-Christian. It’s pro-neutrality.
And Stemberger sees neutrality as inherently anti-Christian because his God is a special little snowflake who needs to be coddled and given special treatment at all times.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier. Top image via FFRF. Thanks to Brian for the link)