Fla. school district paid $86,000 to contest FFRF lawsuit

Orange County Public Schools, Fla., spent $86,164.68 paying its attorney to defend a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation—only to eventually do what FFRF requested it do months before filing suit.

That money could have bought 861,645 No. 2 pencils, 47,869 elementary school student meals, or nearly 400 Chromebooks for students, but instead went to spending two years insisting on allowing a religious group distribute bibles to students.

In 2013, FFRF sent a letter asking the Orange County Public Schools to close a "forum" that was created at the behest of a Christian missionary group that wanted to continue to distribute bibles to public school students. 

When the district kept the forum open, FFRF asked to distribute its own materials to students. The school district then censored many of the materials FFRF sought to distribute, and FFRF sued over the censorship. To end that lawsuit, in February 2015, the school district closed the forum for religious distributions—which is what FFRF suggested in its first letter.

"Had the district listened to FFRF as a concerned ally rather than treated us as an adversary, it could have saved a lot of time and money," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. "We urge other public schools to stick to the business of educating students, not providing outside groups with a platform to preach to other people's children."

Allowing religious literature distributions turns the public schools into religious battlegrounds, fraught with solicitation and propaganda. But schools are not required to open these forums. FFRF's position is that the best course is to disallow all third-party literature distribution, and FFRF finds it unfortunate that Orange County Public Schools had to pay its lawyers tens of thousands of dollars to come to the same conclusion.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 22,500 members, including over 1,100 members and a chapter in Florida.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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