ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A public school Bible distribution went forward in Florida on Thursday despite a lawsuit against the district for prohibiting the distribution of certain atheist publications last year, while allowing religious materials to go uncensored.
The Florida Family Policy Council, World Changers of Florida and several area churches collaborated for the effort, distributing Bibles at nine Orange County schools. The groups simply made the Bibles available to students by setting up tables marked with signs noting that they were free for the taking.
The organizations hosted a similar distribution last year after World Changers sued the Collier County School Board in 2011 for barring Bible distribution on campus. The two groups later reached a settlement, allowing World Changers and others to simply make the Bibles available without handing them out to students.
“This is a great opportunity for students who may never be exposed to Christianity to own and read a book that is not only the best-selling book of all times, but is the most important piece of literature in the development of western civilization,” John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, told WFTV.
However, last year, when the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC) learned of the Bible distribution, they—along with support from the nationwide Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)—countered with a plan to supply atheistic and anti-Christian literature to the same students.
“Why Women Need Freedom From Religion,” “Ten Common Myths about Atheists,” and “What is Wrong with the Ten Commandments?” were some of the publications made available to students by the atheists. However, Orange County school officials prohibited the atheists from distributing other more controversial books and pamphlets, such as “Why Jesus?” “An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible,” and “Jesus Is Dead.”
In a letter to CFFC, school officials outlined why they rejected several of the secular publications, citing inappropriate references to sexuality, gruesome surgical operations, prostitution and other offensive language. The district noted how one book alone, titled Letter to a Christian Nation, includes overt references to sex, back-alley abortions, cannibalism, as well as the statements that God is the “most prolific abortionist of all” and that killing a fly “should present one with greater moral difficulty than killing a human blastocyst.”
CFFC then filed a lawsuit against the school district in response to the “censorship” of some of the materials, asserting that since the Bible includes mentions of sex and violence in world history, the secular publications are no worse.
Attorney Andrew Seidel told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday that he found it “appalling” that the Bibles were being distributed on Religious Freedom Day.
“The best way to protect religious freedom is to keep church and state separate,” he said. “To use schools to promote Christianity is betraying that legacy.”
However, others have cheered on the distribution for the betterment of society.
“Good for the school in allowing the Bibles to be distributed,” one commenter wrote. “I hope and pray many of the kids pick one up and read it. Not only since Jesus is the one and only way to God, but because even for those that do not find Him through it, our civilization is based on the Bible, and they need to be familiar with it.”