The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Florida chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, will be passing out atheist and freethought literature to students in Orange County Public Schools this Thursday.
The distribution of freethought literature is set for May 2, the National Day of Prayer. The distribution is in response to bible distribution in the public schools in February, in which evangelists at tables in about 11 schools were permitted to hawk bibles and promote religion.
The Orange County Public Schools demanded the right to vet the freethought literature. Last week the district announced formally that many submitted publications, including Sam Harris' book, "Letter to a Christian Nation" and an essay, "The Truth," by 19th century freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll, are being censored. Also censored: "Jesus Is Dead" a book by Robert Price, professor of philosophy and religion, "What on Earth is an Atheist," a book by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, "Why I am Not a Muslim," a book by Ibn Warraq, and several FFRF "nontracts," including "Dear Believer," "Why Jesus?" "What Does the Bible Say about Abortion?" and "An X-Rated Book."
Among the handouts which the public schools approved will be several nontracts published by FFRF, including "What is Wrong with the Ten Commandments?," "Ten Common Myths about Atheists," and "Why Women Need Freedom From Religion." A section from "The Age of Reason," a classic critique of the bible by Thomas Paine, and a brochure "Why Atheism" are being distributed by other secular groups involved in the protest.
A Christian law firm, Liberty Counsel, has bullied Collier County and Orange County schools into opening high school campuses for World Changers of Florida to distribute Christian bibles during the school day. A legal wrangle with World Changers cost Collier County $20,000 in fees when the county settled out of court.
FFRF and its chapter protested this egregious violation of the separation of state and church. After a protracted negotiation and many delays, the Orange County Public Schools finally approved a distribution of some nonreligious literature.
The distribution will take place in 11 high schools in Orange County:
Winter Park 9th Grade Center
Timber Creek High
Cypress Creek High
CFFC and other area groups will staff tables at these schools throughout the school day. The distribution is passive so volunteers will keep the tables neat, restock materials and ensure that students do not simply take a stack of materials.
"Predatory evangelical groups like World Changers and Liberty Counsel see public schools as a recruiting ground," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who is traveling from Madison, Wis., to be present at several of the distributions.
"Public schools exist to educate, not to proselytize. Schools don't need to allow these distributions, but as long as they do, we will distribute our own nonreligious materials.
"The irony is that the bible, a bestseller that's rarely read, is X-rated, full of violence, obscenity and immoral conduct committed by or blessed by the biblical deity. Yet the government did not censor the bible, but instead found that innocuous comments by Sam Harris may 'cause a substantial disruption' to the school day."
The distribution is headed by CFFC President David Williamson, with FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel providing significant behind the scenes help. Other groups, such as the Secular Student Alliance, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association, are also providing materials or volunteers.
FFRF called the school district's censorship of some of freethought publications illegal and is considering its options.
Help Freethought Hall Be “Born Again”!
FFRF’s building project will preserve Freethought Hall, FFRF’s home since 1990, and one of the oldest buildings in Madison, Wisconsin, while adding a handsome multi-leveled addition.
The expansion will:
• Quadruple space
• Give Freethought Hall a true Hall — a top-floor elegant Auditorium
• Accommodate current staff members, while creating work stations for many new staffers into the future
• Create an entire second story legal wing for our attorneys and legal work
• Add a sumptuous 900-square foot library
• Restore a charming "Above Us Only Sky" cupola
• Create a TV-radio recording studio
• Provide a large “No Hell Below Us” mailing/shipping area with easy outdoor access in exposed lower level
• Give us more storage — desperately needed!
• Ramp up security features
More Than Bricks & Mortar
This expansion will enhance the Freedom From Religion Foundation's capacity, work, visibility, prestige, outreach and future growth. This project will move FFRF — the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists & agnostics) — FORWARD!
(Click to enlarge)
As a major donor, you may choose to have a major wing or space named after you. “Your Name Here” (or “In Memoriam Name Here”) for Auditorium, Library, Legal Wing, Courtyard/Garden Patio, Cupola, Studio, or Baby Grand Piano. Please phone Annie Laurie Gaylor or Dan Barker at 1-800-335-4021 for more details on “naming rights.” Top Building Fund donors will also be recognized in the main lobby with name in 5-inch-high letters etched on magnificent 14-foot floor-to-ceiling “silver” wall of acknowledgment.
$5,000 and Up — Names of other major donors ($5,000+) also inscribed prominently for posterity in the lobby.
Other Sponsorship Opportunities
Name on Vestibule Tile (Tasteful handcrafted ceramic wall tile in entryway) $2,500 per tile. While space lasts! Order now! (Limit to name only.)
Name (or Message) on Paving Stone (in Courtyard/Garden Patio) $2,000 — While space lasts! Order now!
Name or Message on 12x12 Paving Stone. $1,000 — While space lasts! Order now! Name or Message on 6x12 Paving Stone.
Won’t You Make a Gift to FFRF’s “Ground Breaking” Expansion?
Freedom Depends on Freethinkers!
After the St. Johns County School Board voted recently against allowing high school graduation prayer in St. Augustine, Fla., a Colorado pastor is offering a $1,000 reward to the first student to flout school policy and break the law.
A state law enacted last year lets school districts adopt a policy allowing students to have an open forum/mic at any school event, including graduation, to deliver an "inspirational" message. The goal of bill supporters was to get prayer in schools under the free speech guise, and in fact, the bill's first drafts explicitly stated that, until it was pointed out that such a provision was clearly unconstitutional.
Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former U.S. Navy chaplain who operates Pray In Jesus' Name Ministries in Colorado Springs, says this on his website: "Our ministry is hereby offering a $1,000 scholarship to the FIRST high school student who prays either the Lord's prayer (Our Father...) or says a sincere prayer ending 'in Jesus' name,' on the school microphone at his or her graduation ceremony in St. John's County, FL school District #2."
No Florida school board has approved such a policy to date.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel had written a letter to the school district's attorney March 20 to outline potential problems with an open forum policy. "First, the school will lose all control over the message. Second, the nascent history of the putative policy shows an explicit intent to have prayer in school. The board cannot escape this history and the religious purpose puts the policy firmly in Establishment Clause, not free speech, jurisprudence."
Seidel added, "Once the board passes this policy, it will have no ability to police student speech. Students could seize the opportunity to talk about anything — sex, gay marriage, politics or religion. They could denigrate other religions and declare that only Christians will go to heaven, or that only Muslims, or Buddhists or atheists will have an eternal reward."
The school board that first approves such a policy "is asking for a lawsuit," Seidel said.
"The push to have this policy is clearly religious; in fact, the push is not for an open forum but graduation prayer. The supporters’ buttons call for 'Graduation Prayer' with praying hands next to a mortarboard cap and diploma. It also calls for 'Freedom From Atheism,' ” Seidel wrote.
In a story in the St. Augustine Record headlined "Lawsuit threat sways school prayer action," Board Chairman Tommy Allen said, “No other school district has adopted this. If we did adopt it, we’d have to stand alone. If we do adopt it, then it will take money out of the classroom to defend."
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At the urging of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, numerous framed postings of the Ten Commandments have come down in Breathitt County Schools in Kentucky.
FFRF contacted the manager for the school system, Larry Hammond, on April 5 about the postings. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote that the display of the Ten Commandments throughout the schools was a flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause.
FFRF requested that all principals be directed to remove the Ten Commandments, noting that FFRF considers such egregious violations of conscience in public schools as requiring a speedy resolution.
“The Supreme Court ruled on this very issue over 30 years ago. It is unacceptable that a public school system would willfully violate the Constitution in this manner in 2013,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. The Supreme Court ruled in Stone v. Graham in 1980 that posting the Ten Commandments in Kentucky schools was motivated by a religious purpose and is unconstitutional.
A Breathitt student informed FFRF on April 11 that many of the displays had been removed. Hammond, the manager of Breathitt County Schools, was appointed by the Kentucky Department of Education to oversee the troubled school system. It was reported that the Department of Education issued a statement agreeing that the displays violated the Constitution.