FFRF helps shelve Florida school bible distribution

Instead of being subjected to a religious debate, students in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools will have a normal school day today, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Upset that allowing Christians to distribute bibles meant other groups had to be given the same privilege, the school district based in Orlando suspended the planned handout of religious and freethought literature, scheduled for Jan. 16 to coincide with Religious Freedom Day.

FFRF originally objected when the district allowed an evangelical Christian group called World Changers of Florida to distribute bibles to students in 2013. When the district would not agree to prohibit future bible distributions, FFRF sought permission to distribute freethought literature.

The district demanded the right to vet the freethought literature, announcing a last-minute decision to censor many submitted publications. The distribution proceeded with the district-approved materials, but FFRF sued over the censorship in June 2013. 

To get rid of the lawsuit, the district changed its mind, saying it would allow FFRF to distribute its literature.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel thought some other groups might be interested to hear about the district’s new open-door policy. Seidel reached out to Lucien Greaves of the Satanic Temple, who asked the district to allow the group to distribute a satanic coloring book. Raëlians, members of a group which believes that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials, also asked to hand out materials.

That prompted another change from the district. In an email to Seidel on Nov. 18, Orange County Public Schools attorney John Palmerini wrote, “We can confirm that we are putting distribution on hold for January 16, 2015 while the School Board considers changing its policy regarding distribution of materials.”

The district is still reviewing the policy. FFRF continues to encourage the district to ban distribution of all third-party materials to students.

“We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” said David Williamson, head of the Central Florida Freethought Community, an FFRF chapter. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with over 1,000 members in Florida.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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