Judge Kendall Sharp of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has dismissed FFRF’s free speech case against the Orange County School District as moot because the district has agreed to let FFRF distribute all of the literature it had previously prohibited. In 2013, FFRF and its local chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), sought to distribute literature in several public high schools after the district allowed an evangelical Christian group to distribute bibles.
“We consider this a victory. The court has said that the school district is allowing all the materials that were initially prohibited,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “We disagree with how the court and the school district chose to handle this clear-cut discrimination, so we’ll likely be appealing on some issues, but overall, it’s a win.”
The now-permitted materials include a pamphlet that the district had previously prohibited because it “argues that Jesus did not promote equality and social justice, was not compassionate, was not reliable and was not a good example.” Other pamphlets that discuss what the bible says about abortion and which, according to the district, “assert that God is hateful, arrogant, sexist and cruel” will now be allowed. As will Robert Price’s Jesus Is Dead, which the district originally prohibited because “[t]he claim that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected is age inappropriate for the maturity levels of many of the students in high school.” An odd claim given that the district allowed the bible.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel noted that the forum is now open to all comers. “Satanists can distribute their literature, Muslims can distribute the Quran, and atheists can distribute books that criticize religion.”
CFFC Leader David Williamson added, “We intend to give out a lot more literature to educate students about atheism and the importance of keeping religion out of public schools. We are even designing new materials specifically for students and families in Orange County.”
From the beginning, FFRF and CFFC have maintained that Orange County should close the distribution forum. “The irony is that kids can get a bible anywhere. It’s the country’s most widely available book,” Seidel said, “but where could a Christian kid get a copy of Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation so easily? As long as the forum remains open, they can get one in Orange County Public Schools.”
FFRF thanks David Williamson for being a courageous plaintiff along with FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. FFRF also thanks Steven Brady for his hard work litigating the case.